Labor Day Adieu
Several years ago in my essay for a special symposium on Adrienne Rich published in the Virginia Quarterly Review (82:2), I outlined a series of industrial accidents and union/social movement engagements with capital that had all occurred during the week the essay was written: 42 workers trapped in a flooded Chinese coal mine… 600,000 Korean temporary workers launching a strike over working conditions… Aerolinas Argentinas pilots and mechanics ending a successful nine day strike… a strike unfolding in French Polynesia… and much more from Guyanese workers, Jakarta teachers, Kenyan oil workers, Trinidadian employees, anti-globalization protestors in Hong Kong, etc. etc.
The paragraph for this past week would sound eerily similar: a strike by Guyanese sugar workers, 9 coal miners trapped in an illegal mine in China's Hebei Province; a wave of strikes and sit-ins and labor protests in Iraq’s industrial sector; news of three murdered trade unionists in Colombia in August; the arrest of the secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions. [Note: for those interested in these and related stories, bookmark Labourstart in your browser.] And in the upcoming week, here in USAmerica alone, with Gustav nearing New Orleans and the RNC protest marches here in St. Paul tomorrow, what will the news bring?
And what will the reportedly “news that stays news” bring?
Prior to the impending “free speech zones” we’re sure to encounter tomorrow here in Minne-, I wanted to thank everyone (blog readers, commentators, Harriet administrators, et al) for openly engaging the past three months my mini-essays, book reviews, and waxings & wanings on left-labor poetry and poetics. If nothing else, I hope they show that despite the seeming reluctance of either political party to utter the word class without the qualifier “middle” before it, a vast array of estimable works are regularly being produced that articulate innovative aesthetics to transnational crises produced by neoliberal globalization—crises that overwhelmingly effect most directly the working classes, the working poor, nonregular workers, the unemployed, the informal sector…“the precariat.”
Perhaps I’m not in the majority, but I want even more poetry that brings that news. I want more poetry that reaches out to ethnographic praxis and reportage, that explodes and reconfigures documentary, that emerges from new social and aesthetic relations with the precariat (and from the precariat), that teaches American poetry transnationally and through a vast array of disciplines, that collaborates with everyone from David Harvey to Human Rights Watch… a poetry that works at everything working class, everything precariat, and all the newly emerging meanings of “What Work Is” in the first decades of the twenty-first century.
“…people all over the world, and particularly ordinary working people in factories, mines, fields, and offices, are rebelling every day in ways of their own invention. Sometimes their struggles are on a small personal scale. More effectively, they are actions of groups, formal and informal, but always unofficial, organized around their work and their place of work. Always the aim is to regain control over their own conditions of life and their relations with one another. Their strivings, their struggles, their methods have few chroniclers.”
—from Facing Reality
Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants (Coffee House Press, 2000), Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2008), and Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New...