Monday, April 30, 2007

May Day 2007

I will celebrate May Day tomorrow by going to a demonstration in
solidarity with unionized workers, members of SEIU 1199 at the Regency
Heritage Nursing Home at 380 Demott Lane, in Somerset, New Jersey.
Although the workers are organized, new owners have slashed wages from
$15 to $9 and abolished old jobs and created new ones without union
consultation. The rally will begin at 4:30 P.M. those who may be in
the area and are interested in
further information may contact the following union activists Zoe
Baldwin, email and Hector Pena, email or call Baldwin at 732-646-1666 or Pena at

But I thought that I present for blog readers this mini history of May
Day and its significance

In many lands for many centuries, May celebrations marked the coming
of Spring and the renewal of earth and crops and life for the masses of
people. In our time, May Day, the international holiday of the labor
and socialist movements, developed out of labor's struggle against
exploitation and socialism's dedication to the regeneration and
empowerment of the working class. And May Day began in the United
States, even though its capitalist class has sought to erase that point
from the the consciousness of the people of the United States.

May Day's roots are in the peaceful demonstrations of hundreds of
thousands of U.S. workers in Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, and other
cities on May 1, 1886, for the eight hour day. Supported by the Knights
of Labor, the new American Federation of Labor, and by various labor
anarchists and socialists, the demonstrations were denounced by the
capitalist press as conspiracies to revive the Paris Commune in the U.S.
In Chicago in Haymarket Square three days after the May first
demonstrations, labor anarchists organized a protest demonstration
following police killing of strikers at the McCormick Harvester plant.
After a bomb was thrown at the large contingent of police there to
intimidate the demonstration, the ensuing police riot, national Red
Scare, and arrest and trial of eight of the demonstration's leaders(four
were executed), made Haymarket an international symbol of capitalism's
war against the working class.

With the Haymarket struggle as their precedent, an international
Congress of Socialists and other labor activists, meeting in Paris in
1889 in the centennial of the French revolution, designated May 1st as a
day of demonstrations for the eight hour day through the world.

As the socialist movement grew and a Second International of socialist
parties developed in the 1890s out of the Paris meeting and the
subsequent May Day demonstrations, May Day became an annual event,
reflecting both workers pride and militancy. Although the AFL initially
supported the demonstrations,Samuel Gompers, federation President and
advocate of what came to be known as conservative craft oriented
"business unionism," the distanced the organization from it and
focussed on Labor Day as am "American" national labor holiday.

But socialists, anarchists, immigrant workers pouring in to the U.S.
from European countries with developing labor and socialist movements,
celebrated May day as a day of mobilization and contemplation of Labor's
past, present and future. The Soviet Socialist Revolution of 1917 made
May Day both an official holiday and the symbol of a revolutionary
workers state through the world, with huge peoples marches through the
country. May Day demonstrations were brought to the colonies and
"protectorates" of the world primarily by Communist supporters of the
Third International in the Interwar period, although Socialist and Labor
parties throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States,
whatever their divisions from Communist parties continued to celebrate
May along with Communists.
In the post W.W.II period, when the colonial empires collapsed and
socialist forces advanced, May Day in the 1950s through the 1970s became
the most widely celebrated day in history, reaching more people than any
religious or national holiday

In the U.S. though, where May Day demonstrations had been large in New
York's Union Square in the 1930s and 1940s, legal restrictions, police
abuse and organized street violence by right-wing elements shut down
May Day for much of the 1950s and 1960s.
In Germany, when the Nazis came to power, they had "replaced" May Day
with a "national day" and, among other things, outlawed the use of the
word "proletarian," along with their public burning of Marxist books and
the works of writers deemed "racial subhumans"(Jews most of all but also
others) In the U.S. May Day wasn't formally banned, although permits
for demonstrations were nearly impossible to come by and local
authorities cooperated often with McCarthyite elements to squelch any
possible demonstration for the greater part of a generation. Cold
Warriors even tried without much real success to sponsor "law day"
demonstrations to rival May Day in the 1950s.

This history of ugly repression and the resistance to it in the U.S.
deserves to be remembered when we celebrate May Day, remembering that
it is first and foremost the holiday that proclaims the inseparable bond
and interdependency of the labor and socialist movements. It is the
holiday of unity among all sections of the labor and socialist
movements, not just Communists or Socialists.

Although some have noted that May Day in the cold war era came to be
identified megatively with military parades in Red Square in Moscow
reviewed by Soviet leaders(which always of course got the most coverage)
May Day was about much more than that even in the Soviet Union, where it
was celebrated at all levels through the Society, and throughout the
world, where it was identified with peoples struggles against
exploitation and oppression.
Happy May in the struggle for working class unity, peace, and
socialism! Like the working class itself, it unites the people of the
whole world.

Norman Markowitz

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