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For May Day, listen to America’s poet laureate of work, Philip Levine, tell us “What Work Is”

Jonny Diamond

May 1, 2019, 1:12pm

Hey, it’s May Day, so here’s America’s poet laureate of work*, the late Philip Levine reading his iconic poem, “What Work Is,” which begins:

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you.

(And yeah, you know who you are.)

Ok, now please take a moment to contemplate the millions upon millions of lives that were made dramatically better by organized labor over the last century.

[waits a minute]

Now, after you’ve waxed nostalgic about the Lincoln Brigade and soot-streaked miners in good jeans, please recall that those mythic fights—for fair pay, decent working conditions, the right to bargain collectively—are ongoing and urgent, particularly as so many of the rights won by the labor movement have been chiseled away over the last 40 years.

*not an official title

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