Welcome once again to the Popdose Labor Day mixtape, that quixotic collection of work songs, union anthems, and hymns to the working men and women of America — our annual musical dispatch from the ass-end of the class divide. And what a year it’s been!
It’s never a bad time to be rich in America, but the past twelve months have been particularly good. Politicians continue to embarrass themselves in their eagerness to accommodate the wishes of wealthy donors. Indeed, corporate donors are increasingly brazen about demanding a return on investment when they dabble in politics — and the PACs are all too willing to play along. The political process is more transparently than ever just another wing of Big Business.
This is nothing new; it costs big bucks to run for office, after all, and the money’s got to come from somewhere. But even the Supreme Court — whose members, let us forget, never have to worry about re-election — has also proclaimed itself open for business, with sweeping rulings on corporate personhood. And those corporations are no longer content with squeezing more work out of a diminishing labor pool — now they want to tell employees how to run their personal lives. And the Court, remarkably, is perfectly fine with that. The Hobby Lobby decision rests on the premise that your health insurance is some sort of gift that your employer gives you out of the goodness of his heart, rather than (as is commonly understood) a part of your compensation package and yours to do with as you please.
Having been handed sweeping control over even its employees’ private lives, you would think that Corporate America would be pretty happy right now, wouldn’t you? But no. Even as the Dow Jones soars, even as top corporate brass grant themselves huge bonuses, even as the bankers who damn near sank the whole ship continue to walk the earth as free men instead of being frog-marched down Wall Street — fatcats continue to whine about government regulation (as toothless as it is) and corporate tax rates (among the lowest in the developed world). The iconic American brand Burger King is gearing up for a move to Canada to escape American taxes, and they will tell you with a straight face and sorrowful eyes that they had no choice — that the climate in the US is too ”anti-business.”
Meanwhile the states continue to privatize every public service they can, from education to trash pickup; reforms and regulations are rolled back or ignored, and workers pay the price. There is still no legal mandate requiring employers to provide paid maternity leave. Your employer is not legally required to give you a paid vacation. Your employer is not even legally required to give you guaranteed time off each week. Because that would be anti-business.
But you know what? These songs aren’t for them. These songs are for us; the cube-jockeys and circuit riders who make things happen in this country; waiting tables, shining shoes, playing shows, grinding it out penny by penny. We’re the ones who make the goods, and we’re the ones who sell them, hand to hand and door to door if we have to. Ours are the hands that lay the rails and punch the tickets, that pick the tobacco and mine the coal; ours are the voices that sing.
So sing it loud.
Download the full mix (1:15:39)
Collect ’em all!
Phil Canning — Sell Out (1979 single)
Elvis Costello — Welcome To the Working Week from My Aim Is True (1977)
Ima Robot — The Greenback Boogie (non-album B-side; 2010)
Desmond Dekker — Israelites (re-recorded version; 1980 single)
Bob Dylan — Maggie’s Farm from Bringin’ It All Back Home (1965)
(montage: John Handcox singing “Roll the Union On,” recorded 1937 — Source: Classic Labor Songs From Smithsonian Folkways compilation, 2006)
Squirrel Nut Zippers — The Suits are Picking Up the Bill (live) from Lost At Sea (2009)
Jane Siberry — The Waitress from No Borders Here (1984; out of print)
They Might Be Giants — Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go To Work) from Here Come the 123s (2008)
Roxy Music — Your Application’s Failed (B-side to “The Thrill of It All” single, 1974)