Haymarket Flier, 1886
Deckelkrug from c1880, Württenberg State, Germany (with title slogan).
I would like take FDChief up on his suggestion to "present conditions of, prospects for, and place in the 21st Century United States (or the setting of their choice) of "labor"; the artisan, laborer and manual worker."
In terms of introduction for this post, I would only point out the history behind the labor movement in the US. Chief mentions May Day and implies of course the Eight Hour Day Movement of the 1880s . . . Haymarket and the rest. Haymarket 1886 is a fascinating subject, but I assume a basic understanding of Haymarket and the significance of the entire movement, and the necessary role of German-Americans in carrying it forward.
I would also add that one of the innocent activists hanged was a Confederate war veteran married to an African-American woman - Lucy Parsons - who went on to become one of the symbols of the movement . . . her husband one of the five (I include Lingg) hanged by the Yan . . . I mean state of Illinois. ;-)>
So assuming an understanding of the basic US history of the labor movement up to circa 1890, consider how exactly we would translate the above Deckelkrug slogan. If we translate it simply as "workers of the world unite!" we make is pretty simple and very ambiguous, open to many interpretations and manipulations . . . Translating it as "proletarian class organize yourselves!" would create a completely different meaning. Essentially the American proletarian class (led by a political elite?) would organize themselves . . . Or it could refer to following a universal communist party (supposedly making the call). Or it could simply refer to local unions. One starts to get an idea of the complex nature of the workers movement and why it led in so many different directions . . . In all I don't think that anyone would argue that people should be expected to work 16 hour shifts or seven day weeks. At the same time, like all such belief systems it has been a source of much confusion, waste and suffering.
But why would we want to even bother with such a verbal task? Allow me to let you in on one of the dirty little secrets of the 19th-20th Century . . . the workers movement, and especially communism/Marxism/"Marxian thought"/whatever, were all the spiritual children of modern capitalism, and especially its crimes and inequalities. Prior to that Christianity had served this purpose in the West . . . the equality of all men (before God). Where Christianity fell short was of course that it was only a promise of a supposed eternal future, whereas - lets call it simply "socialism" - was a guarantee of a materialist and earthly future, something its practitioners might experience without dying. The various heads of organized religion did not improve their appeal to the people by openly siding in most cases with the established power.
What mattered from a Marxist perspective was the level of class conflict. The interests of the seemingly oppositional classes were irreconcilable and once the workers had been kicked around enough . . . The victory of the working class promised the end of class conflict and thus heaven on earth. It was only a matter of time, like the turning of the earth.
A bit more objective, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:
Whenever a nation does not completely disinherit its workers, it has been able to count upon their loyalty. The loyalty has been little more hesitant than that of the middle classes; but it has been, on the whole, more generous than the nation deserved, when the real motives of its material enterprises are considered. The pretensions of nations, which only the most penetrating intellectcs among the intellectuals are able to discount, are discounted among the workers only by those who have had the bitterest experiences of national greed and brutality. Lenin's uncompromising antipatriotism, during the World War, found an echo in the hearts of the Russian proletariat, because there the workers were completely and obviously disinherited; and the machinery of state was so manifestly inept and corrupt that it could not claim the usual reverence which even disillusioned workers give a government which manages to maintain its functions. In Europe, on the other hand, the patriotic fervor of the workers was dampened without being destroyed. . . . The modern worker sacrifices his patriotism in almost exact proportion to the measure of social injustice from which he suffers. He disavows the nation only if it has thrust him out of its system of cultural inheritances and economic benefits in the most obvious terms. . .
Moral Man and Immoral Society, 1932, p 101.
So you know where I'm coming from . . . a little "c" capitialist/small town Southern conservative, former churchgoer, anti-communist, profitting from and living under what one would normally call "socialist" programs run by various European states, now and in the past. Voted for Obama in 2008. Used to talk about this stuff with (East) German commies back during the bad ole days.
As to how I see the future of labor in the US - since I'm not really sure what I'm going to say - I´ll add that at the end of this post. . . All comments welcome!