Study Guide

America The Workers

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The Workers

We're not talking the cast of The Office here, although some of them might actually qualify today. This speaker is a big fan of the working men and women who, particularly in the 1950s and earlier, devoted their physical labor to factories, farms, and other large-scale enterprises of production. In his celebration of these workers, the speaker takes his cue from communism, which opposed what it saw as the rule of an elite minority of owners who reaped the vast majority of the benefits from the work done by others. The speaker looks around America and sees quite a bit of injustice being perpetrated on its working class.

  • Line 11: The speaker wants to know when America will be "worthy of [its] million Trotskyites." In saying this, he's complimenting the followers of the Russian communist thinker Leon Trotsky and claiming that America is not "worthy" of them, any of them.
  • Lines 27-28: The speaker is feeling "sentimental about the Wobblies." Remember that this is the funny name given to members of the Industrial Workers of the World union, a group that advocated for the rights of workers everywhere. He's also not going to apologize for being a communist when he was a kid. Even though he's grown up now, it seems that this speaker still holds a soft spot in his heart for his past (current?) allegiance.
  • Line 33: Man, you missed it. Really. "You should have seen [the speaker] reading Marx." Why? Well, because it would have shown you the passion and energy he feels for the working class. Don't forget that Marx is not Groucho Marx, but Karl Marx, one of the authors of The Communist Manifesto.
  • Lines 57-59: Tom Mooney, the Spanish Loyalists, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro boys — what do they all have in common? Two things: (1) the speaker wants to save them all, and (2) they are all oppressed members of a minority, whether it be racial (Scottsboro boys), political (Mooney and the Spanish Loyalists), or both (the Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti). The speaker begs America to help these people, reminding us that he stands with the underdogs of society. Addressing an abstract idea as if it were an actual person is what's called an apostrophe.
  • Line 60: Think about a great memory from childhood. Were there people giving political speeches? Were garbanzos (a kind of bean) being given out? No? Well, this was the case for the speaker, who looks back fondly at the "Communist Cell meetings" he attended with his mother. These political events, where "everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers" are tied in intimately with some of the speaker's happiest memories.
  • Line 73: The speaker's plea, "Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help," is written in broken, guttural grammar to indicate the brutality of the working conditions that many workers faced. Have you ever worked for sixteen hours in one day? If you did, how did you feel afterward? Like going back to work the next day? Probably not, but that was the reality for many workers until things like a 40-hour workweek and overtime came along. We mean, we love poetry as much as the next guy, Shmoopers, but just thinking about working a sixteen-hour day is enough to make us cry, "Help!"
  • Line 80: The speaker ends with an inspiring message: "America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel." Fittingly, after lamenting the mistreatment of workers throughout the country, the speaker decides that there's only one thing left for him to do to try to fix these problems. Yup, you guessed it: it's time to get to work.

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