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"Some Thoughts on Putting 'Labor' Back in Labor Day

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Message Jayne Stahl
A friend, in San Francisco, e-mails me today and tells me that money is taking over the Bay Area. From where I sit, it looks like money is taking over America; greed has evolved to such a degree that it has become not merely an art form, but a wild fungus that spreads from the roots to every nerve, every layer of modern society.

From Los Angeles, it looks like the lords of the manor have stolen the piggy bank, and that only spiritual gridlock remains. On this Labor Day, nobody talks about labor; instead, everybody talks about sales. Everybody talks about war, but no one about the war on labor in the name of national security.

Despite its ongoing, and steadfast efforts at appearing vacuous, Southern California is a microcosm of the future, a mecca for the kind of corporate corruption that can only perpetuate poverty under the pretext of equal opportunity. The face of Los Angeles now is a harbinger of America in, say, 2025. The tyranny of traffic masks the illusion of mobility. The Bentleys, and Prada handbags, conceal the simple basic truth of sweatshops, and thousands of immigrants who work for far less than minimum wage, and live in substandard housing, in the hope that their children might yet share a piece of the apple pie which is continually being denied them. Labor Day now belongs to them as much as to you and me. Their song "si, si, si puede..." is no different from the one sung by my grandfather Sam on his way to Ellis Island from Minsk. In today's big cities, hunger is multicultural, housing limited, and the specter of freedom, not religion, is the opiate of the people.

And so, there are those who sweat, from morning until midnight, in our nation's sweatshops, and those who profit from their sweat. There are those who send their sons and daughters to the front lines of Baghdad, and those whose bank portfolios grow from the spilling of blood. There are those who promote world struggle in order to hold onto class privilege, and the kind of class system our ancestors left the mother country to escape. When thinking of today's lords of the manor, those oil barons who make huge profits on the escalating cost of energy, those who steal from their employees' pension plan in order to secure their luxurious lifestyle, a line from a T.S. Eliot poem comes to mind: "We are the hollow men" as indeed we have a contagion of hollow men.

On this Labor Day, one cannot help but wonder what Karl Marx would say were he to find himself on Main Street today; would his "Communist Manifesto" change, as well as his image of the proletariat? Would he see toxicity as merely an environmental issue, or instead as a record on a broken phonograph, a needle stuck in a groove playing the same empty tune over and over again like a little boy saluting a dead soldier in a stale parade. More importantly, one wonders if it would even matter what Karl Marx would think as we quickly strip history, and the past, of all its working parts like a stolen Buick.

America has become the beltway to all elements that have brought down civilizations from the beginning of time like a rack of unfulfilled dreams where hope hangs like a spineless steer. Hope now has become a lost prayer in the mouth of a homeless child, a cheap fraud inflicted on a welfare mother, a kind of antidepressant taken in order to survive. As, increasingly, survival comes at a higher and higher price, especially for those who can least afford it.

So, here I sit thinking about how someone ran off with the American Dream, and is now holding it for ransom. I think about how the truth has become yet another prisoner of war and, most of all, how instead of turning on each other over differences, we must affirm our common anguish, rise up, and take back what rightfully belongs to us, something we seem to have lost somewhere along the way to democracy.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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