Poetry and the Fight for Worker’s Rights

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Giovannitti-Arturo-1912Today we are featuring a poem from Arturo Giovannitti, a beloved Italian-American poet who is credited with illustrating the plight of the textile worker strike in 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts. After addressing the crowd of strikers, Giovannitti was soon after arrested and charged with 3rd degree murder for the death of a worker who was struck by a police bullet during the strike. Of course Giovannitti was never in possession of a police revolver and was soon acquitted of the charge.

The textile mill strikes were one of the first strikes and conflicts with the establishment for the plight of the worker and labor rights. Italian-American men, women and their children worked in the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile mills under horrendous conditions. The Italian-American worker’s fight for labor rights at the textile mill was the spark the country needed for greater protests and reform.

THE SERMON ON THE COMMON 

THEN it came to pass that the people, having

heard that he had come, assembled on the

Common to listen unto his words.

And they came from all the parts of the earth, the

Syrians and the Armenians, the Thracians

and the Tartars, the Jews, the Greeks and the

Romans, the Iberians and the Gauls and the

Angles and Huns and the Hibernians and

Scythians, even from the deserts of sands to

the deserts of ice, they came to listen unto

his words.

strikers3And he, seeing the multitudes, opened his mouth,

and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the strong in freedom of spirit: for

theirs is the kingdom of the earth.

Blessed are they that mourn their martyred

dead: for they shall avenge them upon their

murderers and be comforted.

Blessed are the rebels: for they shall reconquer

the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after

equality: for they shall eat the fruit of their

labor.

Blessed are the strong: for they shall not taste

the bitterness of pity.

Blessed are the sincere in heart: for they shall

see truth.

Strike2Blesed are they that do battle against wrong:

for they shall be called the children of Liberty.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for equal

ity s sake: for theirs is the glory of the broth

erhood of man.

Blessed are ye when the scribes of the press shall

revile you, and the doctors of the law, poli

ticians, policemen, judges and priests shall

call you criminals, thieves and murderers and

shall say all manner of evil against you false

ly, for the sake of Justice.

Rejoice, then, and be exceedingly glad; for so

they persecuted, reviled, cursed, chained,

jailed, poisoned, hanged, crucified, burned,

beheaded and shot all the seers, the apostles

and the warriors of humanity that were be

fore you, for the sake of freedom.

LawInLawrenceYe are the power of the earth, the foundations

of society, the thinkers and the doers of all

things good and all things fair and useful, the

makers and dispensers of all the bounties and

the joys and the happiness of the world, and

if ye fold your mighty arms, all the life of

the world stands still and death hovers on the

darkened abodes of man.

Ye are the light of the world. There was dark

ness in all the ages when the torch of your

will did not blaze forth, and the past and the

future are full of the radiance that cometh

from your eyes.

Ye are eternal, even as your father, labor, is eter

nal, and no power of time and dissolution can

prevail against you.

Ages have come and gone, kingdoms and powers

and dynasties have risen and fallen, old glo

ries and ancient wisdoms have been turned

into dust, heroes and sages have been forgot

ten and many a mighty and fearsome god has

been hurled into the lightless chasms of ob

livion.

But ye, Plebs, Populace, People, Rabble, Mob,

Strikers4

Proletariat, live and abide forever.

# # *

Think not that I am come to destroy the law: I

am not come to destroy, but to fulfil through

you what the prophets of mankind have pre

saged from the beginning.

For verily I say unto you, While man lives and

labors, nothing can destroy the eternal law

of progress which after each advancing step

bids him further.

Therefore, say not unto yourselves, even as the

priests and scribes and doctors of the law and

fools and hypocrites say, This is the goal

which was destined unto us and no further

shall we go.

For even if there be before you the uplifted

arms of terror and the smoking altars of mur

der enshrined in a gaunt temple of gibbets

and fierce with shrieks of curses, ye must pass

beyond.

For your feet are like the unrolling of the end

less scrolls of time, not even night and

silence and death can stop their march for

ward and upward, ever to a farther and loftier

goal.

And, lo, ye shall never arrive because never shall

ye cease going.

Whosoever, therefore, shall break one jot or one

tittle of this law shall be called the least in

the kingdom of man, but whosoever shall do

and teach it, the same shall be called great in

the kingdom of man.

Ye have heard that it was said by them of all

times who toil not but do live of your toil,

Thou shalt not rebel against thy master.

But I say unto you that whosoever soweth the

seeds of patience the same shall reap the har

vest of shame.

They said unto you, Question not the right of

your masters to reign over you and command

you. They shall have your sweat and your

tears, aye, and even your blood and your life,

and ye shall serve them in reverence and awe,

for their power upon you is of God.

And again they said unto you, Give your masters

the labor of your hands and the worship of

your hearts, give them the fruits of your or

chards, the grains of your fields, the flowers

of your gardens and all things made by the

labor of your hands and by the thought of

your brain, and withhold not aught from

your masters, lest your masters law and the

curse of your masters God be upon you.

And again they said unto you, Bend your knees

and worship your chains, kiss the whip that

lashes you, bless the heel that crushes you,

revere the yoke that weighs upon your neck,

bury your forehead in the dirt whence ye

came and whither ye shall return.

Do not cry, do not complain do not grumble,

do not think, do not hope,

Be humble, resigned, patient, submissive, lowly

and prone even as a beast of burden, lest ye

have the gaol in this life and gehenna in the

life to come.

And again they said unto you, Resist not evil,

for all spirit of disobedience and unsubmis-

sion issueth from the enemy of peace. There

fore if your masters, or your masters serv-

ants smite you on the right cheek, turn unto

them the other also, and if they take away

from you the heritage of your fathers, give

unto them also the birthright of your chil-

dren.

All this and more than this they said unto you

before I came, but now that I am come, a new

evangel shall be proclaimed unto you, that

your souls may be renovated and purified in

the fire of the new salvation which is not

peace but war.

Therefore I say unto you, Banish fear from your

hearts, dispel the mists of ignorance from

your minds, arm your yearning with your

strength, your vision with your will, and

open your eyes and behold.

Do not moan, do not submit, do not kneel, do

not pray, do not wait.

Think, dare, do, rebel, fight ARISE!

It is not true that ye are condemned to serve and

suffer in shame forever;

It is not true that injustice, iniquity, hunger, mis-

ery, abjection, depravity, hatred, theft, mur

der and fratricide are eternal ;

There is no destiny that the will of man cannot

break ;

There are no chains of iron that other iron can

not destroy;

There is nothing that the power of your arms,

lighted by the power of your mind, cannot

transform and reconstruct and remake.

Arise, then, ye men of the plough and the ham-

mer, the helm and the lever, and send forth

to the four winds of the earth your new proc-

lamation of freedom which shall be the last

and shall abide forevermore.

Through you, through your united, almighty

strength, order shall become equity, law shall

become liberty, duty shall become love and

religion shall become truth.

Through you the man-beast shall die and the man

be born;

Through you the dark, bloody chronicles of the

brute shall cease and the story of man shall

begin.

Through you, by the power of your brain and

hand,

All the predictions of the prophets,

All the wisdom of the sages,

All the dreams of the poets,

All the hopes of the heroes,

All the visions of the martyrs,

All the prayers of the saints,

All the crushed, tortured, strangled, maimed and

murdered ideals of the ages, and all the glori

ous destinies of mankind shall become a tri

umphant and everlasting reality in the name

of labor and bread and love, the great three

fold truth forever.

And lo and behold, my brothers, this shall be

called the revolution.

* * *

Thus spake the man to the assembled multitude

that had come from all the lands, over all the

waters of the earth, and they listened unto

him and received his words, and the dawn

began to rise in their hearts, and they praised

the announcer with the cheers of their mouths

and they blessed him with the tears of their

eyes.

But when the multitude dispersed to return to

their labors and to their strifes, the dark fig

ures that make darker the shadows of the

night held council against the truth-bearer for

the words that he had spoken.

And the scribe said, Verily, he is a law-breaker.

And the money changer said, Aye, and he is a

fool.

And the judge said, He is a wrong-doer.

And the sage said, He is possessed of a devil.

And the chronicler said, He is a primitive sinner.

And the wise man said, He is a profligate.

And the priest said, He is a blasphemer.

And they all croaked in chorus, He is an enemy of

society, of civilization, of religion and man

kind. Law and order must be upheld and our

sacred institutions must be preserved. We

must do away with him.

And they did away with him. But nobody knows

to this day whether they sent him to prison

or to Parliament.

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Poetry

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