Monday, September 03, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 34 ("One Big Union" edition)

Working from a different Office today--the place we play our regular Thursday night gig--because my local is closed in recognition of Labor Day.

Very little time to post, again today, but I can't ignore the day that's in it:

I've been employed--with exception of that last six years, for an hourly wage--since I was 12 years old. I've been a janitor, grocery bag-boy, gym attendant, office drone, data-entry operator, framing carpenter, bookstore clerk and manager, oil-field blowout-preventer mechanic, line cook, prep cook, nightclub doorman, lobster fisherman, sailmaker's assistant, gardener and "lawn-care specialist", teaching assistant, freelance music teacher, high-school band director, guitar studio manager, adjunct professor, a working musician since the age of 15, tenure-track professor, tenured professor. In that long list, I've had health benefits in only the last two. I was broke from the age of 18 through the age of 40, and went a good 17 years with a total of two dental visits. The first house that either Dharmonia or I ever owned, we purchased less than six years ago.

I may wear shiny shoes and sit at a desk or a computer terminal, but I'm still a worker, not an owner. I've never crossed a picket line, I have never taken advantage of my fellow workers, and I never will. When asked my political allegiances, if I think my questioner won't find it too pretentious or tiresome, I describe myself as a Neolithic anarcho-syndicalist--a Wobbly who believes in the tribal archetypes. When asked where my allegiances lie, I don't have to wonder: it's with the ragged motley crowd from whom most of the culture, most of the political change, and most of the values I care about come.

To quote the teachings of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World whose vision of solidarity would be brutally suppressed by Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and the Palmer Raids, but whose vision powered both the fall of the Soviet Union and the only meaningful resistance to the Johnson, Nixon, Thatcher, Major, Reagan, Blair, and Bush oligarchies, and to encapsulate what I do every day as a worker for change:

"We are building a new society in the shell of the old."
That's all that's left to us.

This is a poem written in Vienna, about which, upon my first visit (as a worker: playing music for pay) I was most struck by the gilded decaying tinsel of empire's tawdry monuments to itself:

The Tough Taproot
On a corner street in an old city,
masonry flakes away,
revealing handmade brick, crumbling mortar, and a subjective human

I'm struck:
Human hands mixed this mortar, shaped this brick, laid the foundations on which
the imperial edifice stands.

After, thoughts of the workmen:
calloused palms,
broken fingernails,
grime tattooed deep under the
the anonymous hands and backs
and brains that shape streets,
cities, and god-damned empires.

“History is written by the winners”--but how call them losers?

Instead see faces--worn, laughing and profane--whose monuments
in the work of their hands.

Theirs the real history,
Theirs the lasting meaning,
Theirs the sap that shapes the tough taproot of human culture.

---cjs, 5.26.03, in Vienna
On this day, as on May Day, I know with whom I stand.

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