A Labor Day Admonition
What to say about Labor Day? Should I write another depressing editorial where I pull out facts and figures showing how bad the situation is for working people and our organizations in the US today? I suppose not. Should I follow the lead of the capitalist mainstream media and talk about labor in passing just one day a year - today - and then blow the subject off for the other 364 days? Well that's not possible because here at Open Media Boston we talk about labor and working people's struggles for justice all the time. So then what can I discuss? Perhaps a little anecdote can serve in place of a studied essay this time around.
This morning I was out covering the Labor Day Parade that SEIU Local 615 gamely put on in the face of the corporate onslaught besetting the working class worldwide. Since I'm a photojournalist, I took lots of pictures as the march proceeded from Cambridge City Hall to the Cambridge Common. The bulk of the participants were custodial workers from 615 and the workers from hotel and restaurant side of UNITE HERE with smaller delegations from a bunch of other unions and allied organizations. Most were Latino.
So I was sort of doing my usual internal critique while I was taking my photos. I was like "where is the rest of the labor movement?" Why is it only a few hundred people instead of 10,000 plus? Why is it primarily Latinos? Where are the other workers? Why do I still see unions hiring and promoting lots of entitled kids from elite universities instead of bringing up most of their staff and leadership from the ranks? Grumble grumble. Etcetera etcetera.
Maybe I'm a bit jaded because I've run a lot of similar events, and because times are tough and getting tougher, and I just don't think that labor - or progressives in general - are doing enough to prevent this country's backsliding into 19th century labor conditions … or, worse yet, 20th century fascism. I choose not to voice all my critiques in this publication all the time because I feel like progressives and labor take enough lumps from corporations, the rich and their servants. And I don't think it's helpful to be Mr. Doom and Gloom overmuch.
Anyway, I was working up into my regular (yes, reporters think about things on the job) lather over what I was covering, and I found myself up on this porch overlooking Mass. Ave taking shots of the entire march from the high vantage point. And a guy came out of the front door and asked me what was going on, and I told him it was the Labor Day march and who was running it. And he told me in an South Asian accent that he was a member of MOSES - the union of scientists and engineers that work for the state here in Massachusetts, a rarity in labor these days by the way. And once he found out, he thanked me for telling him, and said "I'm going to go join them."
And just like that he walked down the stairs and fell into rank with all the other workers. He joined the march without a second thought.
In other words, the only reason he hadn't attended from the beginning was that he hadn't known about it in advance.
And I'm like "wow, a lot of labor's problem boils down to not getting enough press coverage." Which is one of the main reasons I started Open Media Boston to begin with.
As the march proceeded down the street, I noticed a lot of people were genuinely supportive of the action once they understood what it was. And that's a different vibe then I remember seeing on the street at a lot of the two hundred plus public actions I've covered since launching this publication in March 2008.
I realize that many viewers think that Cambridge is some kind of revolutionary training ground or some similar nonsense. And it's really not. There are plenty of conservatives here - especially the many students that come to our elite universities to get degrees which will allow them to further or join the elites of their home state or country. There are also a great number of wealthy people here and people that want to be wealthy. And tons of tourists - many here on the road to getting their kids a slot in one of the aforementioned elite schools.
So the idea that most people in Cambridge will make common cause with working people organizing for better conditions on and off the job is ludicrous on the face of it.
But there people were, getting very excited about the public demonstration of labor power … denuded though it might presently be.
And I felt like "hey, maybe there is a change in the air after all." Maybe if SEIU and other unions work hard to do what they're doing more effectively and ever more democratically, and if I keep working hard with my friends to grow Open Media Boston into a major publication in the Boston area … maybe we'll all be in a better place in a couple of years.
And I think that's a better way to approach the current situation than just criticizing what is, and what has been. Not that criticism is bad, but it's not very helpful without a vision of the way things might be.
Probably the best part of the march was when it surrounded Harvard Yard on three sides on the way to the Cambridge Common. There were certainly many defenders of the current political and economic order on hand now that school is back in session. And their looks were not supportive at all. As one would expect of bosses and academic advisors of bosses the world over.
But there was something other than the usual sarcasm and derision on their faces. Something I don't recall seeing much as long as I've been on the political left.
I saw that they were afraid.
And that is something new. Despite the current ascendency of the right wing, and the failure of the Obama administration from the perspective of working people and labor unions on so many levels, these well-off people were very nervous about the demonstration. Especially in a ruling class enclave like Harvard where they weren't expecting to have to deal with such a demonstration of working class tradition and militancy.
Some of the crowd on Harvard Yard were also - in fairness - quite excited and supportive. And all were obviously not captains of industry or conservative students and professors. A good number of on-duty Harvard workers - much abused in recent years by the richest school in the world - managed to find themselves on the Yard just as the march came by.
But I think the basic street solidarity and the fear of the entitled are the two visceral takeaways for me on this Labor Day.
And I suspect that people of good conscience still have a good shot to turn around the national and global situation for the better if we all work on major progressive political, economic, social and cultural reforms as hard as we can, and show solidarity to each other every day.
So let's call this my Labor Day admonition to you all.
Think about it. Then act. In solidarity with fellow working people. Everywhere and at every time you can.
If most of us do that ... another world is possible. A better world.
If not ... well ... humanity has had a good run, I guess.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston. He was also the architect and lead organizer of the Boston Social Forum in 2004, whose slogan - like the World Social Forum process of which it was part - was "Another World is Possible." Fancy that.