Sunday, September 6, 2015

American Labor Day versus International Labor Day

On my Facebook feed, in preparation for Labor Day, I saw a meme with a picture of coffins covered with American flags, and the words: "In case you thought it was just an excuse for another three day weekend, this is what this day is about." That was odd! I would think that meme would be more appropriate for Memorial Day than for Labor Day. But it's true that all those holidays that just very conveniently fall on a Monday do seem to blend together, and most people have no idea what any of them are about.

American Labor Day falls on the first Monday of September, and it marks the end of the period when it is fashionable to wear white. It also has something to do with the American Labor movement, but is not to be confused with International Labor Day, which falls on May 1st every year and involves waving red flags, holding up a left hand with a clenched fist and singing the Internationale.

Even though the Internationale is a French song in origin, it is best known around the world in its Russian translation. That is because the Russian Internationale was the national anthem of the Soviet Union until 1944, when they wrote their own song. (They also used to sing the Marseillaise a lot.)

Here is the Internationale in English:

This one does not seem to be as inspiring as some of the other versions ("Don't cling so hard to your possessions"?!)Be that as it may, international Labor Day is celebrated in many countries, and the Internationale is sung in many languages.

In most countries, Labor Day is a socialist holiday, and the workers are expected to show solidarity with workers the world over, because the "working class" is supposed to transcend national borders.

In the United States, in order to distance ourselves from international socialism, Labor Day is not on May 1st and nobody sings the Internationale, not even the more "progressive elements." Instead, here are the top ten Labor Day songs:

The very top song is sung by Pete Seeger to the tune of John Brown's Body, a Civil War ballad adopted by the North against the South.

Solidarity Forever was written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915. Here are a few sample lyrics:

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

All the world that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.

What do you  think, after listening to this song: Is American Labor Day a socialist holiday?


  1. I decided along time ago I was going to where white whenever I want. I said something to a friend once that this rule did not apply anymore in general, and she said yes it did. Interesting post about labor day history.

    1. Yes, I agree with you, Julia. We live in what is supposed to be a free country, so we should be able to wear white whenever we like. Or any other color for that matter. I used to get chided for wearing black during the summer, when white was the "correct" color to wear, but I just felt like wearing black.

    2. I wear black in the summer, too. People need to give us more space to just do what we want. I am kind of tired of people micromanaging others.