Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Denatured Liberalism

de·na·ture dēˈnāCHər/ verb past tense: denatured; past participle: denatured take away or alter the natural qualities of.
"empty verbalisms and denatured ceremonies"

Must say that the hostile response my little call to restore a meaningful weekend for working people got yesterday on an allegedly liberal blog from people who present themselves as champions of liberalism surprised me a bit.   It seemed to get mixed up, not only due to the distorted form my argument was presented in but also with the rote reaction of the pseudo-liberal, pro-business, anti-religious ridicule of the old blue laws, opening hours and sale of alcohol on Sundays, that kind of thing.

Or it could be that the desk jockeys, many of whom have never done an hour of physical labor as paid work, never mind more than 40 hours of it at low pay and stingy benefits, just don't get why the labor movement struggled against the 6 or more day work week.  And here I provided a visual hint as to why even a secular version of the Sabbath was important from even a non-religious point of view.  I practically spoon fed it to them.

Or maybe it's as I've been saying, what "liberal" means got distorted by the scribbling, desk set class of "liberals" who really don't have any skin in that fight, other than a bit at the very tips of their fingers, at most and who are generally not even the ones who risk repetitive stress disablement in relation to their jobs.  Those who aren't trust-funded or something out of even that much work.  I would suspect that a lot of them don't have the slightest idea of what I was talking about, which, perhaps is too much to ask of an online "brain trust".   Here's the substance of a short article by Krissy Clark about where that slogan on the T-shirt came from.

Ricardo Levins Morales is an artist and labor activist in Minneapolis. And he, in fact, makes that bumper sticker. He designed it in the early 1980s, in an era when unions were losing favor.

Since then, he's sold tens of thousands. He says it's funny to watch people in the rear view mirror squinting with puzzled looks at the stickers. "For people who are not steeped in labor history, it might take a few minutes to figure out what on earth they are talking about." Because, Morales says, most people think the weekend has always been here, "you know, like the weather."

It is hard to imagine life without the weekend. But the word didn't even exist until the 1870s, when Americans were deep into the industrial revolution. "Many working people who were in the factories of the industrial revolution were fresh off the farms, and they were used to regulating their own day, and their own working rhythms," says Morales. "And here, all of a sudden they're having to adapt themselves to whistles, to bells, to the clock."

Many workers—men, women and children—put in 10 to 16 hour days, seven days a week. And you remember this part from history class: Labor organizers called on the government to mandate shorter hours. Workers lost lives in the struggle. At Haymarket Square in Chicago, police gunned down protesters and men were hanged for inflammatory speeches.

The men were demanding, as they put it, time for "what we will."

"The right to have time with our families. To pursue education," says historian Michael Feldberg. And to go to the zoo, the museum, the church. Actually, getting Sunday off for worship was relatively easy. Feldberg says, it was Saturday that was the tough part. "If the Jewish Sabbath had been on Wednesday, we would not have a weekend. We would have Wednesday and Sunday off."

And what kind of weekend is that? Feldberg says even as Americans agitated for more time off, two days off right next to each other was not a foregone conclusion. He says for that, we can thank the massive influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s. They made up a big part of the factory work force. And, Feldberg says, their holy day wasn't Sunday. "Jews for the most part had to either voluntarily not conduct business on Saturday while the rest of the country did, or abandon their religious principles to make a living, keep a job."

But Jewish and gentile factory workers aren't the only ones who brought you the weekend. Some of the people who owned the factories helped too. People like Henry Ford. Ford hated labor unions. But he shared their hope in this strange new thing called a weekend. He gave his workers two days off back in the early 1900s, even though the federal government didn't mandate the forty-hour work-week until 1938. Ford pretty much invented weekend road trips, and promoted his own weekend romps in breathless newspaper editorials.

Christian Overland of the Henry Ford museum explains it like this: Ford wanted to sell his Model T. And if people were stuck in factories all week, "when are they going to use it? If your workforce is your consumer, you have to give people the time off to buy the things." And to take them out on weekend adventures, and drives in the country, and, later, trips to the mall, and little league practice, and all those other weekend errands we've come to know and love.

So, who invented the weekend? It was brought to you by the Labor Movement, but also Management. Jews. And Gentiles. And you may as well throw in God, since he came up with the whole "day of rest thing" in the first place.

Though I think she was being far too even handed with that Henry Ford stuff, in the typical. denatured, quasi-liberalish media style.   Considering his attempts to squeeze every bit of work out of his workers for the money he gave them, he probably saw it as resource management more than anything respecting their humanity.   And he was entirely atypical of the management class of his or our time, the class that my critics and the media snarkers over blue laws oddly always end up enabling.  Getting the weekend involved a genuine struggle in which people really got more than their feelings hurt.

If it's not too much like work for them to have read this far, the rest of Clark's article is something like what I meant.   Not everyone works at a desk with the kind of work pace that allows you to keep up on your blog community.   Really, it's like some even more boring, geriatric, Peyton Place for the radically otiose over there.   Maybe you don't have enough to do, which would explain why you don't get the point.  Or maybe it's as I really suspect and your liberalism is a mere pose behind which there is just a tiny bit more pose.

1 comment:

  1. I've given up on finding reasoning on the intertoobs. Seriously.

    You're contretemps at Southern Beale's blog is typical. The moment a line of thought is challenged by simple reasoning, religion pops out as the only alternative, and we can't have THAT! Especially since the alternative offered as "religion" is some caricature of fundamentalist Christianity (itself almost a caricature already), a straw man easily set ablaze, but in this case doing the service of a red herring to draw the argument down an irrelevant path where the person with the matches can scream and yell in ad hominems.

    It's complicated.

    So I'm not surprised what you had to say in no way resembled what you said by the time it ended up via the telephone game at the other end of the line. But I used to point out the radical nature of the Sabbath: in a culture that was literally hand to mouth, literally subsistence, to insist that you leave your animals and your crops alone for one day, abstain entirely from caring for them or harvesting them or anything; that was a radical statement of trust in God, in your Creator. And that, of course, was the point of the sabbath: enjoy the fruit of the Creation, rather than spend yet another day trying to exploit it. It was a way of resetting one's attention, and not necessarily the same day one went to "church" at 11 in the morning (the other hour that has "always been that way, like the weather.")

    I don't know; I'm just tired of the stupid.