The Banks Are Made of Marble

by Mark Dvorak

We traditionally mark the end of summer on Labor Day weekend with backyard barbecues, back-to-school sales, ball games and the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Those who care to look behind all of this window dressing will find references to the Labor Day which symbolize the history of the American worker; and which is nothing less than a sweeping epic. Labor Day represents many hard-fought triumphs, great tragedy, and is a fundamental component to the American story often ignored, and remembered only in unpleasant terms.

Labor Day originated in America in 1882 when the Central Labor Union of New York City sought to create “a day off for working citizens.” This of course was long before the advent of big labor, the eight hour day and the forty hour week. In 1894, Congress made Labor Day a federal holiday and currently, Labor Day is recognized as a state holiday in all fifty United States.

The Industrial Workers of the World was an important, and ultimately powerful organization from the late 1800’s through the early 1920’s. The IWW, or Wobblies, considered anyone a member of the working class who earned wages by the use of tools owned by the company for which he worked. The company owners then, were considered members of the employing class. The IWW concluded that these two classes had nothing in common, and strived to organize workers around the world into the OBU - the One Big Union. With such an organization, the IWW envisioned, and to this day still envisions, a general world-wide strike where all workers lay down their tools so the rightful creators of the world’s wealth can at last be recognized.

Although traditional mining and logging tools like picks, tamping equipment, two-man saws, lifting tongs and chokers have been replaced by lap top computers, company cell phones and blue tooth technology, the distinction first set forth by the IWW more than one hundred years ago places many among us in the membership of the working class.

If you have read this far, take some time then this Labor Day week, and find out who Joe Hill was, and is. And Big Bill Haywood and Eugene Debs too. Look up or read a book about Gearge Pullman and the railroad strike of 1894. Find out why immigrant workers from Russia, Italy and Poland, many of whom where women and children, walked out the Lawrence, Massachusetts mills in 1912. Learn the song, “Bread and Roses.” Find out what May Day used to be and wonder why it is no longer celebrated. And find out what the Taft-Hartley act is and wonder what it yet represents. What about the Haymarket incident? It happened right here in Chicago. Look into this stuff and you will gain something consequential to your own working life.

As we listen then, to the current dialogue and witness the profiling of the current election season, let’s remember for a moment where we are in our National evolution. The United States is a world-wide economic empire whose wealth has been achieved, in no small measure, by the exploitive use of cheap labor.

Then read this, the Preamble to the United States Constitution: 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

THE BANKS ARE MADE OF MARBLE by Les Rice

I’ve traveled ‘round this country from shore to shining shore

and it really made me wonder all the things I heard and saw


I saw the poor dirt farmer plowing sod and loam

and I heard the auction hammer knocking down his home

but the banks are made of marble with a guard at every door

and the vaults are stuffed with silver that the farmer sweated for


And I saw the lonely sailor standing idly on the shore

and I heard the owners saying, “Got no work for you no more”

but the banks are made of marble with a guard at every door

and the vaults are stuffed with silver that the sailor sweated for


And I saw the weary miner scrubbing coal dust from his back

and I heard his children crying, “We’ve got no coal to heat the shack”

but the banks are made of marble with a guard at every door

and the vaults are stuffed with silver that the miner sweated for


And I’ve seen the women working in the sweat shop and the store

at home they do the laundry cook the meals and scrub the floor

but the banks are made of marble with a guard at every door

and the vaults are stuffed with silver that the women sweated for


I’ve seen my fellow workers throughout this mighty land

I pray we stick together and together make a stand

then we will own those banks of marble and we’ll open every door

and we’ll share the vaults of silver that we all have sweated for

then we’ll own those banks of marble and we’ll open every door

and we’ll share those vaults of silver that we all have sweated for

9.5.08


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