Polly Drove Steel Like A Man

I am down here on the ground floor not watching Hillary Clinton debate Donald Trump because I can’t stand it: I’d have to listen to Donald Trump. The Engineer is upstairs watching it because he’s an engineer and nothing bothers him.

I just keep thinking about John Henry: the flip side of the Sixteen Tons 45 rpm that I played over and over as a four year old precocious twit. The working man that built this country and the working woman that never got the credit. The Polish and Ukrainian laborers that worked on properties for Donald Trump without righteous immigration papers and got paid intermittently  — at times, so one hears, in vodka.

John Henry was a real person — a black man sent to prison on fluffed post-Reconstruction charges, press-ganged to build the rail lines westward, dead as so many died building the “new nation” without a fuck of a lot of acknowledgement or gratitude from the people who would profit from their labor. You can read about it in this book.

The ballad mentions his wife: “When John Henry was sick and had to lie in bed, Polly drove steel like a man.”

Yeah. Pretty ornamental ladies float on the arms of rich men, then and now. Other women suck it up and deal because there’s no other choice. Some of them drive steel.

Drive steel like a man, Hillary.

8 thoughts on “Polly Drove Steel Like A Man

    • Alan Grayson has commemorated that and other labor battles as political history lessons during his Senate campaign. Until those started dropping into my inbox, I had no idea how scorched-earth the mining wars were — though I should have, because I’m a Sherlock Holmes wonk, and “The Valley Of Fear” is pretty much all about that subject. You always assume fiction writers are exaggerating.

  1. Same here. Although I wanted to see the debate I just cannot bear to look at that fucker’s hideous orange asshole-mouthed face. Though from what I’ve read he could barely put two thoughts together, and when he did the grammar was appalling.

  2. Thought-provoking essay on work and equality. Also work and class. Rich men and women have always lived their rich lives on the backs of slaves and the backs of working men and women who drove steel and mined coal and died.

    • And they still do. I’ve done a lot of thinking in the past decade especially about the way that the wealth of America was rooted in the unpaid and unhonored labor of Africans, Chinese, and just plain working class people who were treated as fungible commodities. It’ll be a hell of a day when we get behind that proposition that all men and wo/men are created equal.

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