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All Work and No Playlist?

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Labor Day as a federal holiday dates back to 1882, yet it is one of the most ignored holidays on the calendar--often passing by unremarked aside from mattress sales and a three-day weekend. This year, with America’s essential workers rightfully in the spotlight and a growing movement of class consciousness, we’re giving Labor Day the attention it deserves.

It’s a fraught time for employees everywhere. COVID-19 has thrown many into economic uncertainty, the election is looming, and it’s become painfully obvious that hashtags in honor of essential workers aren’t a substitute for policy change. Even as we commit to the cause through online organizing and (socially distanced) marches, we cannot forget that this holiday is, at its core, meant to celebrate us.

Ergo, the bops.

The JCI team knows the value of levity in the midst of political struggles. While we work toward a better and more equitable future, we must also take time to celebrate as a community. We’ve assembled a playlist of our favorite worker anthems and what they mean to us. Truly comradical.

You know that man makes money to buy from other man

The main message of “It’s a Man’s, Man’s World” by James Brown is about gender inequality, which is absolutely an issue within the fight for workers’ rights and we should talk about it more. But it also doesn’t exist in a vacuum. James Brown sings about men being defined by their labor and realizing it’s nothing without other people. Tell me that doesn’t echo the alienation of the worker from their product.

She works hard for the money, so you better treat her right

From teen waitress to JCI associate, strong women have always been role models throughout my career. Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard For the Money” perfectly captures the tunnel vision of working hard to provide for oneself and family. I'm dedicating this timeless tune to all of the essential workers I know personally and those far and wide. You've worked hard for the money and your communities, I can't help but express my gratitude. You are the backbone of our society, from food service to education. I invite you to take 5 minutes this weekend to blast this one and dance like no one's watching!

They use your mind and they never give you credit

This is often how I feel as a working woman. How many times have I spoken in meetings—only to have my idea taken and accepted because someone repeated it louder and in a lower octave? Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” has been on my running playlist for years. Nothing gets me more excited to run miles than an anthem about workers who have dreams bigger than the [pre-COVID] cubicle they occupy. So pour yourself a cup of ambition this weekend and bop along to the clackity-clack of the typewriters who set the beat of this timeless jam.

I got no time for living, yeah I’m working all the time

What better to encapsulate the modern-day American ‘always grinding’ ethos than this line written by two suburban Canadian teens in 1974? Released on Rush’s eponymous debut album, “Working Man” harkens to a time when Neil Peart (RIP) and his uncomfortable admiration of Ayn Rand were still years away, allowing this song the freedom to be a simple, aspirational ode to the muted drudgery of a 9-to-5er. It also has a bitchin’ guitar solo.

Es un derecho de nacimiento mirar los frutos que dejan los sueños / It is our birthright to see the fruits left to us by dreams

“Derecho de Nacimiento” (Birthright) by Natalia Lafourcade is a hymn of liberty and unity. It was originally composed by a cadre of artists in the wake of the Mexican Student Movement in 2012. Students were fighting for their freedom of expression, and demanding educational and economic reform. They were reminding everyone watching that the modern world is built on a social contract, and that we need to constantly hold those in power to their end of the bargain. This song not only invokes the message of the movement, but the classic right of liberty and purpose for all. It is an inspiring song to work and fight for what we care for. It's also a beautiful melody.

Oh, I, I got work to do

“Work to Do” by the Isley Brothers is admirably straightforward, no hiding in metaphors or imagery: the narrator has something worth coming home for, but at the same time they’re kept busy at their job. I think that really describes America right now. With a lot of people working from home, it’s gotten harder than ever to draw a line and maintain work-life balance, so we have to be sure to remember to step back and enjoy the life we’re working for.

Take this job and shove it, I ain't workin' here no more

My pick is “Take This Job and Shove It” from Johnny Paycheck. It’s just that kind of year. Really sums up the vibe of the working men and women in the world today. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen to the lyrics, it kind of takes you to that place. My other favorite is Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” a song from 1965 about servitude. One of the best layered blues songs of the era.

You wanna, you wanna

At first listen, this song seems to glorify the 24/7 hustle. However, when Comrade Britney sings “Work B**ch” it is important to note that she only lists luxuries: living in a big mansion, partying in France, etc. We can infer that necessities such as food, housing, and healthcare are not part of her exhortations because they are human rights and should not hinge on an individual’s utility to capitalism in order to be secured. Britney gets at the core of the intrinsic humanity of labor. The first months of quarantine proved that when people have their essential needs met, they don’t just slack off, they actively look for things to do and create. If this year has taught it anything, it should be that humans, by nature, will find something to strive for, as evidenced by weeks of balcony concerts and theater livestreams and countless other ventures. We shouldn’t be afraid to reform our economic system, because the problem has never been labor, only the exploitation of the laborer.


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