Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

May Day

This is May Day, the international workers’ celebration of Labor (Labour) and its importance.  In the U.S., not much is made of May Day because the government in the ’30s feared that Labor was “going Communist” and instituted the fake holiday of “Labor Day” in September. The effect was to cut off the struggles of U.S. Labor from global struggles for economic justice and to weaken Labor in America and make it more vulnerable to the capitalist exploiters.

So, I sing a chorus of “Internationale” and I go to a rally this evening for workers trying to unionize.  Solidarity in the struggle, folks.

May 1, 2007 - Posted by | economic justice, labor


  1. Yes, let us sing!

    Here in the Bahamas we don’t celebrate Labour Day until June 1st, which is also the anniversary of the Burma Road Riots in 1942. This year will be the 65th anniversary of that most important event in Bahamian Labour history. Randol Fawkes, the great Bahamian labour leader was the catalyst behind the first June 1st observances of Labour Day back in the 1950s when Bahamians were still struggling to replace the wealthy white merchant class with Black Majority Rule. Next month, I’ll post something more about this on my blog.

    In the meantime, Power to the People!

    Comment by haitianministries | May 1, 2007

  2. Hmmm. Some of The Internationale (i.e. going off of the original French version translated) strikes me as quite atheist or anti-Christian: “There are no supreme saviours, neither God nor Caesar, nor tribune.” Given that I usually associate this with the Paris Commune, it is hard to comprehend how it wouldn’t be anti-theistic. Much of the rest of the song seems anachronistic now: “The taxes bleed the unfortunate” and “the idle are going to live elsewhere”. Am I misinterpreting?

    Comment by Looney | May 1, 2007

  3. Looney, you are probably right. I am, of course, a Christian, not an atheist, communist or otherwise. I sing Internationale on May Day for its historic significance, not for its literal meaning. The Labor movement and the church need each other. When the church has been out of touch with the struggles of workers, it has lost an essential dimension of the gospel. When the Labor struggle has not been informed by Christian perspectives, it has often been violent, vengeful, and short-sighted.

    I suppose in one sense the words of Internationale are a warning: This is what you get when the churches side with the rich–a class warfare that sees Christianity as upper class and, therefore, part of the enemy. It needn’t (shouldn’t) be that way.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 2, 2007

  4. I just see huge problems with Unions that make me really skeptical of any of them. The fact that Unions absolutely will not allow anyone to object to them on a religious basis should worry all of us. Additionally, there is a lot of corruption going on in the larger Unions, even today. While the concept of Unions itself is a noble one, I have yet to see a labor Union that acts in an unbiased way. My wife fought with the Union at UPS over firing employees that clearly violated the sexual harrassment policies and many of my friends who work there and at Ford have told me horror stories about employees and Union reps that regularly use their Union status to promote laziness, hatred of management, and unfair promotion. It just seems that despite the altruistic goals of Unions, money is just as motivating of a factor for them as it is for the corporations. One example of a non-Unionized company that does as well by its employees as a Unionized one is FedEx. Beginning pay is much higher than at UPS, the employees of FedEx get a 75% discount off their shipping costs (no discount at UPS), and until 9-11 any employee could jumpseat anywhere FedEx flies, even to foreign countries (nothing like that has ever existed at UPS). And when you factor in benefits, the disparity regarding insurance is minimal since no FedEx employee has to pay Union dues.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | May 2, 2007

  5. D.R., the more I read your stuff, the less weight your opinions have with me. I work for UPS as my other job BECAUSE it is union. The benefits make all the difference: I get complete healthcare for myself and my family, and dental, and 1 pair of eyeglasses per family member per year (as needed), plus accidental death insurance. That’s worth $23 per month.

    The Teamsters is not the most progressive of unions. I am involved in union politics to try to make it better. But the Labor movement is essential. If not for Labor pushing for better forms of the New Deal during the Depression, this country might well have joined the many which went Communist or Fascist. Read the writings of the day: Democracy and laissez-faire capitalism were linked in the common mind and both blamed widely for the suffering. By un-linking the two, and connecting struggles for workplace democracy with struggles for political democracy, Labor may well have saved America.
    Labor was also deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement. And it has often been involved in various peace struggles.
    The struggle for economic justice is inevitably connected to other struggles for justice.
    But, D.R., I know you to believe in heirarchies, so what would have surprised me is if you DID believe in strong unions, not that you don’t. As I said, the more I read your stuff, the less seriously I take you.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 2, 2007

  6. Maybe you don’t take me seriously because I challenge pretty much everything you take as a presupposition. And as usual you find it easier to dismiss it by mischaracterizing me and marginalizing my beliefs, rather than actually dealing with the evidence that I present. A good example of this is your statement, “But, D.R., I know you to believe in heirarchies.” This is just silly. What really does that have to do with our conversation? It’s just a way to discredit me in your mind so you can ignore what I say, which is pretty scary. It allows you to hedge against actually conceding that you might be wrong, or that someone else might be right (or at least have an opinion you should consider). Not to mention it’s an ad hominem and as such not relevant to a reasonable discussion on Unions and their CURRENT impact on corporate culture.

    Also, that’s great that UPS does all that, but as I noted, they are not all that special. Plenty of non-Union businesses (including, but definitely not limited to, FedEx) offer the same benefits without the added expense of Union dues. A quick look at the best businesses to work for in the U.S. shows that few (if any) are Unionized (and this is compiled through independent studies of the companies and by taking surveys of the employees).

    Additionally, my contention is not with what Unions HAVE DONE 30, 50, or even 70 years ago. It’s with what they are doing (or rather, not doing) today. You’d have to be blind to not see the scandal and corruption that have rocked Unions for the past 30 years. And you ignored my point about Unions not allowing people to object to being in them for religious reasons. This to me is very problematic.

    Finally, I am not saying that all Unions are wrong or bad ideas. I said I am skeptical of any Union because of the easy corruption that often comes with them. I am skeptical because I am not sure that they are nearly as helpful to employees as they have been in the past. And finally, I am bothered by the abuse of power that I have seen and many of my family members have experienced. I understand that you heartily support the idea of Unions, but at least be honest in addressing the fact that they have problems and people like myself have a reasonable argument in being critical of them in their current form.

    Comment by D.R. Randle | May 2, 2007

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