by Mike Quille
I want to change the world, I want to strike the spark or kick the pebble that will start the fire or the avalanche that will change the world a little.
– Fred Voss
Fred Voss wants to help change the world through his poetry because of the dire situation of the American working class. Real wages have stagnated or declined for decades, and huge inequalities between rich and poor have developed. The top 1% of the U.S. population own 35% of the wealth, and bonuses for bankers on Wall Street are more than double the total annual pay of all Americans on the federal minimum wage.
Against a background of de-industrialisation and the loss of jobs overseas, there is mass incarceration of males, police violence on Black youth, and attacks on trade unions and on the social safety net.
The outrageous consequence of this divisive class war by rich elites is that mortality rates amongst white working class Americans are getting worse. Medical research shows that workers are dying early, from obesity, drugs, drink and violence, including suicide.
What is going on? Why is this happening? It’s happening because the rich and powerful American ruling class, running the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world, need American workers less than ever before. Many are either on the economic scrapheap, or on their way there. There are simply not enough jobs for them, and the few jobs around are increasingly badly paid. Most Americans are struggling, trying to cope with the legalised robbery of their labour and their health, wealth and happiness. And many of them have expressed their desperation through support for the racist and sexist politics of Donald Trump.
The same thing is happening in Britain, with workers facing more years of stagnating or declining real wages, and cuts to public services. To help the struggle against similar trends here, Culture Matters, supported by Unite the Union, the main trade union representing metalworkers in Britain and Ireland, is jointly publishing (with Manifesto Press) a new booklet of poems by Fred Voss.
Voss is an American poet who has worked in machine shops for over 30 years. He writes about being hired like a commodity by overbearing bosses, and about alienation in workplaces dominated by fear, macho posturing and competition. But there is a vision in the poems of how different things could be. Gradually, the potential for human solidarity emerges, for combining the practical muscle and skill of working men with the political and emotional strength and determination of women like Rosa Parks.
Like William Blake, Voss combines the precision and realism born of years of skilled craftworking with a sweeping, lyrical imagination. And like Blake, his poetic vision springs from years of reflection on work and the working class, and on the oppressive – but alterable – realities of the world around him.
Just how different is the situation here in the U.K., Europe, Russia and other societies afflicted by neoliberal capitalism? Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, says this in the Foreword:
Unite is proud to support this pamphlet from Culture Matters. Britain, Ireland and many other capitalist countries in Europe are becoming more like the U.S., in several ways. Everyone can see the growing inequality, the precarious and low paid nature of employment, the housing crisis across the country, the divisions and inequalities between social classes, the health problems, and the sheer everyday struggle to pay the bills for many working people.
In this situation, Fred Voss is like a prophet. He warns us of the consequences of the way we live, he tells truth to power, and he inspires us with a positive vision of a possible – and desirable – socialist future.
The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand is published at £5.99 plus p. and p., with discounts for trade unions and other bulk and trade purchasers. Enquiries and orders can be sent to
Culture Matters is at www.culturematters.org.uk