Today in labor history: “The Song of the Wage-Slave” for May Day

The land is the landlord’s,

The trader’s is the sea,

The ore the usurer’s coffer fills –

But what remains for me?

 

The engine whirls for master’s craft;

The steel shines to defend,

With labor’s arms, what labor raised,

For labor’s foe to spend.

 

The camp, the pulpit, and the law

For rich men’s sons are free;

Theirs, theirs the learning, art, and arms –

But what remains for me?

 

            The coming hope, the future day,

            When wrong to right shall bow,

            And hearts that have the courage, man,

            To make that future now.

 

I pay for all their learning,

I toil for all their ease;

They render back, in coin for coin,

Want, ignorance, disease:

Toil, toil – and then a cheerless home,

Where hungry passions cross;

Eternal gain to them that give

To me eternal loss!

 

The hour of leisured happiness

The rich alone may see;

The playful child, the smiling wife –

But what remains for me?

 

They render back, those rich men,

A pauper’s paltry fee,

Mayhap a prison – then a grave,

And think they are quits with me;

But not a fond wife’s heart that breaks,

A poor man’s child that dies,

We score not on our hollow cheeks

And in our sunken eyes;

We read it there, where’er we meet,

And as the sun we see,

Each asks, “The rich have got the earth,

And what remains for me?”

 

We bear the wrong in silence,

We store it in our brain;

They think us dull, they think us dead,

But we shall rise again:

A trumpet through the lands will ring;

A heaving through the mass;

A trampling through their palaces

Until they break like glass:

We’ll cease to weep by cherished graves,

From lonely homes we’ll flee;

And still, as rolls our million march,

Its watchword brave shall be –

 

            The coming hope, the future day,

            When wrong to right shall bow,

            And hearts that have the courage, man,

            To make that future now.

 

From An Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry, compiled and edited by Marcus Graham, 1929


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