Last week a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing nearly four hundred individuals, people who were literally stuffed inside of a sweatshop working for criminally low wages so that you and I could save a few dollars on discount clothing. Bangladesh is notorious for sweatshops. They exist because there is a ready market for cheap clothing, much of it in the United States and Great Britain. Nearly seven hundred people have died in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005, and there has been at least one other instance of a factory collapsing there as well.
May Day occurs this week. May 1st historically was celebrated in our country both as a rite of spring and as a focal date of the American labor movement. Today's poetry selection comes from the era when our labor movement began to truly flex its muscle and show its resolve. The tragedy of Bangladesh shows us where we would be without the sacrifices of those who fought so valiantly for American worker's rights.
Look for that union label!
The Workers' Maypole
by Walter Crane
(written April 13, 1894)
This day let your work be undone:
Cast the clouds of the winter behind ye,
And come forth and be glad in the sun.
In the bud and the blossom of May
Lift your hearts up again, and your voices,
And keep merry the World's Labour Day.
With a message of strife and of hope:
Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands
That gathers your cause in its scope.
That flutters from fair Freedom's heart:
If still far be the crown and the prize
In its winning may each take a part.
In your strife is the life of the race,
The workers' flag Freedom unfurled
Is the veil of the bright future's face.
Let your message be clear on this day;
Be ye birds of the spring, of one feather
In this--that ye sing on May-Day.
Though its shadow is cast before;
The new birth of hope that unbidden
Surely comes, as the sea to the shore.
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life--not for others,
For the earth and its fulness is theirs.