Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day: Maypoles, Marx, and Miracles

May 1:  have you been up before sunrise, putting bouquets of flowers on the porches of those you love?

Me neither--but when I was in elementary school, it always sounded neat.

I have May Day memories from my youth, memories of Maypoles and ribbons and weaving something interesting out of scraps.

It's only been more recently that I've thought of the labor relations aspects of this day.  I have a BA in Sociology in addition to English, so I could give a little lecture on Marx and how his writings seem more relevant today in some ways than they did when I first read them in undergraduate school in the 80's.  We could talk about workers and alienation and who owns the means of production. 

But let's begin in a more simple place.

With the collapse of the factory (in Bangladesh?) that makes cheap clothes for Westerners, it seems a good day to think about where our clothes come from.  Just after the collapse of that factory, I heard a commenter on NPR say that we're sensitized to where our food comes from and safety issues with all sorts of commodities, but most of us don't give much thought to our clothes.

I'm not sure I agree.  I know many people who think about it, but it's hard to find clothes that come from non-third-world countries.  All of those industries have been moved.

It's a good day to think about who sews those clothes in those Dickensian factories, who grows the food we eat, who ships all of our goods to us.  It's a good day to think about who cleans up our workplaces after we're gone for the day.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about meaningful work and what I'd like to do with the second half of my life.  It's a good day to be grateful that I have the luxury to do that, and to say a prayer for those who don't have that freedom.

We could also say a prayer for workers of the future.  Today is the day for many schools when students must put down a deposit to secure their space for fall.  What will they study?  What career fields will exist for them that we can't even imagine now?

It's also the feast day of St. Philip and James; for a spiritual take on May Day, try this post over at my theology blog.  I'm intrigued by how small a role Philip and James have as apostles.  Yet still, they get a feast day.

Perhaps there's a lesson there for all of us.  I spend a lot of time feeling like my work doesn't matter.  It's only occasionally when I say to myself, "Hey, this woman has a full-time teaching job at the community college.  I gave her one of her first teaching opportunities, when she had almost no teaching experience.  I couldn't give her a full-time job, but the adjunct job I could give her surely paved the way to better things."

I do my best to transfer in credits, to mediate disputes, to give faculty and students good schedules, to plan for the future at work--it's not all writing meaningless, yet lyrical, e-mails.

I often wish there was more success at the end of a day:  factories saved from collapse, working conditions improved across the globe, better opportunities for more people.  But I can only do so much on my own.

So, on this May 1, this Worker's Day, let's remember all those who don't have good working conditions.  Let's envision a world where workers will be safe--that envisioning is the first step.  Let's imagine a world of increasing opportunities, not collapsing futures.  Let's not give up on miracles!

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