Social Justice Poetry

workers’ rights poems

Labor History | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

It is more than a job
His son’s shoes
The roof over his family’s head
The food in their stomachs
The future
Now all uncertainty
Added to the cold
On the picket line
A sign
Proclaiming the unfairness
The slow walk
In front
Of the gate
The only warmth
The wood fire
In a fifty gallon barrel
The inequality of power
A Fortune Five Hundred corporation
Committed to break the union
Strikebreakers ready
To snatch a job
To work for less
Police their loyalty
To property over principle
But he will wait
Sacrificing with the hope
Of security
It is the story
Of labor
The patience
The long suffering
With the hope
His march
Around the walls
Of capital
Will bring the walls down

Cecil | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

His was the voice
Of an avenging angel
Calling out the greed
The wrongs
Of men
Who amassed capital
Without regard
For workers
The crowd leaned forward
Accidental utterances
Escaping their throats
As he continued
To express
His righteous wrath
Reminding laborers
Of past transgressions
And of the shaky ground
Of the possible reversals
Labor was facing
The preacher
Boiled up in him
As he reminded them
Of a cause
They had won
Of the sacrifices
Miners had made
To secure their livelihood
How unity
Was their only buffer
Against the wrongs
Of safety standards
Undermined
By the pursuit
Of quick profits
Over the health
And being
Of workers
Of lax inspections
By men
Seduced by perks
Enabled by hateful legislation
Paid for
By coal lobbyist dollars
Of pensions and insurance
Pulled from the hands
Of disabled miners
Broken by long days
In the darkness
In the depths
Of the mines
Of his willingness
To go to jail
To face the danger
Once again
To assure their futures
Some now rising
From their seats
In response
To his indictment
Charged with a furor
Their resolve
Matching his
His job done
He reminded them
Once again
Of solidarity
Their only hope
The applause deafening
He waved a thanks
For their approval
And returned
To his seat

How We Need You, Mother Jones | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

She came to the mountains
An Irish lass
Familiar with tragedy
Prepped by the loss
Of her children
By the loss
Of her husband
Pained by the sight
Of barefooted children
Their bellies empty
Their future
The dark mouth
That swallowed their youth
That broke them down
That stole hope
Always in debt
Afraid for the injury
That would take away
The little
They could earn
She saw their plight
The Blacks
The Europeans
The hill people
All with the common fate
All less than the mules
So much easier
To replace
Her words
Charged greater
Than dynamite
Lifting the eyes
Lifting the spirit
Straightening the spine
Of defeated people
Going to jail
Raising hell
How the mine owner hated her
Feared her
Trying to break her
But trials
And tainted judges
Stoked more
Her determination
The love
Of union members
Beleaguered but unbroken
More determined
To break the bondage
And they won
Children free
To go school
Their limbs intact
Fathers
Free of the tyrants
Who paid little
But expected more
And how we need her now
When jobs
Go south
When wages stay low
When governors
And legislators
Rob men of living wages
I hear in my mind
Her admonition
“Pray for the dead
And raise hell
For the living”
He cannot hide
Behind her skirt
But we can rise
To the challenge
Organize for the fight
This is our country
We have to take
It back

Uneven Ground | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

She walked beside him
He carrying a sign
He could not read
With no education
Offered in a coal camp
Where ignorance
Was a tool
That made mining
The only alternative
In maintaining
Low wages
And poor working conditions
The explosion at Clay
Was the last straw
The company
Owning the only store
Paying in script
That never covered
The weekly
Food order
The company housing
Never tended
Matchboxes
With thin walls
That let the cold in
But never
Kept the rats out
A company doctor
Who turned a blind eye
Never seeing
That malnutrition
Was an enemy
To the working man
Ill children
Sick all winter
But now
Fear stoked the man
Fear of weak timbers
Gas pockets
That carbide lamps
Could ignite
They walked
Slow circles
Around the entrance
Of the mine
With little hope
To win
Union protection
Just knowing
The law and time
Were not
On their sides
That thugs
And the national guard
Would come
Beating their solidarity
And their heads
Until in fear
Until in desperation
Starving families would yield
Their leaders abandoned
Jobs lost
Thrown from company housing
Denied entry
To the company store
Blacklisted
He shared the fate
Of other organizers
Stooges betraying
Friends and family
Leaving his wife and child
With his father-in-law
Riding the rails
Only to find
An unwelcoming mine owner
Well aware
Of his union devotion
A black ball
He could not lift
Or roll away
Another victim
Crushed under the wheel
Of avarice
Owners who sang hymns
On Sunday
But left the robbed and beaten
By the roadside
On their way
To the bank

What I Said to My Boss in My Head | A Social Justice Poem by Daniel Klawitter

“The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled.” –Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 3

I had a boss once, who among other things, told me:
“I don’t want you working on your poetry during company time.”
My caboose was to be confined to the chair in my office.
I was to ignore any visitation of sudden, non-work-related inspiration.

Short walks were permissible but not short poems.
I promised him efficiency and a brutal suppression of my art.
But in my head (and my proletarian heart) I told him:
“I will do my job and I will do my duty—
But you cannot take my surplus beauty.”

The Market | A Social Justice Poem by Isabelle Law

The cobblestones crunch in the market
Leather hands shaking leather hands
I advance on a shrimp vendor’s table

Thousands of tiny gray crustaceans
Swimming in murky water
They cannot see
The blind Thai slave who farms them
Who sleeps in a cage
Whose skin is bubbling from the sun
I move on

I count the seeds in a strawberry
This one was picked by a man with a family
Waiting for him
Across the border
Unknowing
If the last letter reached its intended
I leave

I would rather starve
Than consume these bitter shattered hopes