I was born in an east European Jewish working class neighborhood in which people belonged to unions and felt comradeship with those who worked with their hands. May Day and Labor Day were OUR holidays. They were days on which we could band together, march through streets and sing our ‘Solidarity Forever” song. We were proud to be members of the working class, we were proud to engage in physical work, we wore our poverty with the pride of one who regards the working class as God’s chosen people. Today, our children and grand children have no sense of “class,” they have no pride in being a “worker,” and the thought of physical labor is abhorrent and beneath them, it is something reserved for the ‘illegal immigrants,” not for the children of the middle class. We spent May Day singing songs, dancing, and enjoying a good meal–one made by ourselves, not one eaten in fast food restaurants. There was that magic moment when after a speaker completed what she was saying, we stood with clenched fist in the air and sang of our oneness as workers.
It is amusing to listen to the grandchildren of those with clenched fists now deride “illegal immigrants” who do the dirty work not a single one of them would even contemplate as an occupation. Ironically, the “illegal immigrants” are the only ones with whom grandparents would regard as “one of them.” One day, when still a teenager, I went for a job in a building on 55th Street in Manhattan. A group of men were walking around the building with signs of protest. I asked what was going on and the man said they were on strike. He said it was OK with him if I entered to get the job. I raised my fist in the air, said, “Sir, Solidarity Forever,” and walked away. A proud member of the working class.