Monday, September 04, 2006

Happy Labor Day

Today's holiday served its purpose for me, gave me an opportunity to step off the treadmill of activities for a while and contemplate the condition of workers in America. It's a good occasion to salute the Service Employees' International Union, they are doing some very good work and have been reaching out to people outside their ranks. Joining their affiliate organization, Purple Ocean, is a good way to support workers' rights, and their website is a source for news about developments that affect working people.

It's also a good day to remember a great, underappreciated hero of American history, Eugene Victor Debs. I will include below some excerpts from the 1918 speech that resulted in a prison sentence for Debs; close to a century has passed, but the words still ring true, too true.

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June 16, 1918, Canton Ohio

...These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition to Junker rule in the United States. No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.
...
Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an arch-patriot; every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for democracy. What humbug! What rot! What false pretense! These autocrats, these tyrants, these red-handed robbers and murderers, the “patriots,” while the men who have the courage to stand face to face with them, speak the truth, and fight for their exploited victims—they are the disloyalists and traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight.
...
Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.


--Eugene V. Debs

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Happy Labor Day, everybody.

4 comments:

TBG said...

Wow.

yellojkt said...

Welcome back to the blogosphere.

Eugene Debs is a recurring motiff in Kurt Vonnegut's books. It seems he was quite a firebrand.

Anonymous said...

You're back strong, k.

yellojkt beat me to the Debs/Vonnegut connection.

bc

Read/Think/Live said...

Vonnegut likes Debs because he is a Hoosier...

By the time I came across Debs in the Vonnegut oeuvre, I had already had my class-consciousness raised by Howard Fast and Taylor Caldwell and Alan Paton. Not to mention Dr. Seuss. Here's what I was reading at age five:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0394800877/ref=sib_dp_pop_fc/104-8171982-0773525?ie=UTF8&p=S001#reader-link

The theme of the story:
"I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom, we, too, should have rights!"