May Day, May Day


t’s time once again to mark May Day, the international holiday for workers. And given that this decade is seeing the centenaries of many events that had a major impact on 20th century life, perhaps it’s also a good time to reflect on why the Worker’s Holiday was considered necessary. A century ago, manual labourers were expendable. Worksites were dangerous places, and an injury or illness meant no income. Company owners and managers cared little about their staff. It was the time that moved W. B. Yeats to pen the scathing lines:

What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone.

The workers’ rights movements, and the establishment of unions, saw the end of child labour, the initiation of a two-day weekend, a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, holiday pay, paid sick leave, maternity leave.  A host of things we take for granted now, to the extent that many no longer see the need for unions.

But now a draft report by the World Bank is suggesting that all these measures be abandoned if they hinder a company from maximising its profits. It says “High minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing, strict contract forms, all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology.” The recommendations are part of the World Bank’s Development Report for 2019, which will focus on how automation and technology are impacting on jobs. 

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Why a magnet?


The broken radio lay discarded on the junk heap. Its still-shiny chrome and black plastic casing stood out against the dark red of the rusted anvils and old machinery. It was strange to see it there instead of on its customary place on the dresser.

We grabbed it,  and began twisting the dials, raising the antenna and pushing it back down, pressing buttons. But nothing happened. The radio was truly broken. Then one of the speakers came loose, giving a glimpse at the inner workings of the device. My brother began to pry it open further. I was the hesitant ninny. I knew how vital the radio was to everyday life, how valuable electrical goods were. But my brother said they didn’t need it, wasn’t the replacement in there in the kitchen already?

I was curious too to see inside the radio, so my protests didn’’t last long. I wanted to know how this little box brought us music from America and beyond, and let us attend sports events taking place a hundred miles away.

But when I saw the magnet in the centre of the speaker, I was stumped. What could it possibly have to do with radio broadcasting? A magnet was a magical thing of itself to us children, our concept of it highly influenced by cartoons, where the bad guy was lifted up and held tight by a massive red and silver U-shaped specimen, betrayed by his belt buckle. But I knew this black circle that looked like a piece of rubber was a magnet, because it looked exactly like the fragments we’d played with before. They must also have come from obsolete radios, taken apart by either someone curious or someone thrifty. And knowing my dad, I’m going with curious.

My brother and I split the magnet in two. I took my half into school, and it was a sensation for a day.

Thirty years later, I listen to music and radio programmes on my laptop. I can’t even see the speakers, and have no idea if they need magnets or not. But the excitement and wonder of that afternoon pulling a radio apart is as fond a memory of a time gone past as the sound of crackling voices coming over the airwaves as a station bursts out of the white noise and into life. Beat that, iTunes podcasts.


Inspired by Daily Prompt: Magnet

Fragility’s strong metaphors


A fragile peace…

The turn-to phrase for the media when describing a ceasefire that has seen violations in the initial hours or days. Peace is referred to as an object that needs careful construction. Maps are drawn up by consultants before any ceasefire is contemplated. The initial discussions between the main parties and usually a superpower or two are referred to as the ‘foundations’. When delegates are asked to comment on their progress at peace negotiations, they face the cameras and with an appropriately serious/determined visage, they parrot phrases used in these situations about ‘building towards a lasting peace’. Just how much commitment is behind all these useful catchphrases will only be seen later… and perhaps explains why peace remains such a fragile entity.

Self-confidence can often be just as fragile as peace. Confidence is also something that needs to be ‘built up’, or can be ‘shattered’ easily. Trying to construct it in adulthood is tremendously difficult, though age does seem to kill off the need to cave in to peer pressure or to conform to societal norms. Maybe age is like ivy growing up the walls…it can help hold together a facade that would otherwise be pretty fragile.

Building confidence without strong foundations is like building on a former chemical dump or an Indian burial ground… the bad stuff underneath will just inevitably seep upwards. Peace within is necessary to exude confidence instead of arrogance. They say “Fake it till you make it”, but from my own observations in life, fake confidence is extremely fragile. Shaking it leads to a release of those toxic fumes from the chemical dump underneath… which is perhaps another reason why peace has such a reputation for fragility.

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Fragile