Good Afternoon Comrades! Today’s Email is a little different that what you would usually get. This is a copy of the email I sent out to the paying comrades on Tuesday. Not only do I want to show the rest of you what those look like, but more importantly I wanted everyone to have a good read about May Day, which is tomorrow. Considering the global pandemic, please do be careful if you are going out into the streets. That being said, if you can, do go out and be seen. Enjoy this special report and to make up for you missing your regular hit, I will be writing another email on Sunday, if I make it back in one piece from Saturday that is.
I am going to be writing, shortly, I promise, about the history and its significance but more so about why and how this wonderful day is relevant today.
Throughout the time of my own radicalization in the early 90s, May 1st was a traditionally a day of chaos, massive black bloc protests aimed at squatting more space, fighting police and projecting force in the face of the so called democratic moral majority, which neither of it is. Being the impressionable youth I was then I didn’t give much thought to the point of this day’s history and what it stood and should stand for. Luckily, I had several older comrades teach me and I wanted to pass this forward. Partly, to praise what was achieved in the past and more importantly to raise awareness to the fact that we all stand in a very long line of like minded people all over the world who recognized the exploitative and downright brutal material conditions set forth by capitalism. Knowing history helps, if anything, to not give into alienation. I find it hugely important to know that none of us are alone, we have not been and we will never be. For that alone, it is worth celebrating on May 1st by getting out in the streets, en masse.
Below is a video explaining the one song that unites us workers throughout the world whose origins lie in the history below.
This here is an excerpt from the English Modern Version that Billy Bragg wrote, that still gives me goosebumps to this day.
Admittedly, I prefer the German Version by Hannes Wader but I do think I am only one here that speaks German, it’s linked for your enjoyment.
Sadly, the origin of the present day May Day lies in the United States, where “Labor Day” has even been moved to September to erase any memory of the truly working class revolutionary mass movements. In 1947, 1 May was established as Loyalty Day by the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars as a way to counter communist influence and recruitment at May Day rallies. Loyalty Day was celebrated across the country with patriotic parades and ceremonies, however the growing conflict over U.S. involvement in Vietnam detracted from the popularity of these celebrations. The reality is that the International Worker’s Day has it’s origins in the US.
In 1884, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions had passed a law declaring that, as of May 1, 1886, an eight hour workday would be the full and legal workday for all U.S. workers – the ruling class had that much time to recognise this new law and put it into effect.
The owners refused.
On May 1, 1886, workers took to the streets in a general strike throughout the entire country to force the ruling class to recognise the eight-hour working day. Over 350,000 workers across the country directly participated in the general strike, with hundreds of thousands of workers joining the marches as best they could.
In what they would later call the Haymarket riots, during the continuing strike action on May third in Chicago, the heart of the U.S. labor movement, the Chicago police opened fire on the unarmed striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works, killing six workers and wounding untold numbers. An uproar across the nation resounded against the government and its police brutality, with workers' protest rallies and demonstrations throughout the nation set to assemble on the following day.
On May 4, Chicago members of the anarchist IWPA (International Working Peoples' Association) organized a rally of several thousand workers at Haymarket Square to protest the continuing police brutality against striking workers on the South Side. As the last speaker finished his remarks that rainy evening, with only 200 of the most dedicated workers remaining at the rally, 180 armed police marched forward and demanded the workers to disperse. Then, deep within the police ranks, a bomb exploded, killing seven cops. The police opened fire on the unarmed workers – the number of workers wounded and killed by the cops is unknown to this day. Eight anarchists were arrested on charges of "inciting riot" and murder. The retaliation of the government was enormous in the days to follow, filling every newspaper with accusations, completely drowning the government murders and brutality of days past.
On May 1, 1890, in accordance with the decision of the Paris Congress (July 1889) of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket martyrs, mass demonstrations and strikes were held throughout Europe and America. The workers put forward the demands for an 8 hour working day, better health conditions, and further demands set forth by the International Association of Workers. The red flag was here created as the symbol that would always remind us of the blood that the working-class has bleed, and continues to bleed, under the oppressive reign of capitalism.
From that day forward (starting in 1891 in Russia, by 1920 including China, and 1927 India) workers throughout the world began to celebrate the first of May as a day of international proletarian solidarity, fighting for the right of freedom to celebrate their past and build their future without the oppression and exploitation of the capitalist state.
Further Reading: Subject Archive: May Day, May Day Action by the Revolutionary Proletariat by Vladimir Lenin; Changes by James Connolly; and in the Reference Archive, see: The First of May: Symbol of a New Era in the Life and Struggle of the Toilers by Nestor Makhno
See Also: Anarchy Archives: Haymarket Massacre
It’s from this backdrop that we go into this coming weekend with joy and determination to not only honour and celebrate past achievements but to manifest our own solidarity. May 1st is celebrated as a Working Class Day the world over, the wikipedia entry for May 1st actually lists the individual celebrations per country incredibly well.
Looking at my past 30 years in this fight it is clear that the days of organized labour are nowhere where they were 100 years ago, despite the need for it being just as vital, if not more so. The opposition to organized labour the world over, but specifically in the US and the UK that has influenced, in one way or other the rest of the world has been so successful that, ( how to spell a coup d’etat in neoliberalism you might say ) the mere mention of a Union would empty out most if not all May 1st marches. It was through the squatting, anarchist and anti-capitalist movements in Europe in the mid 80s, and then in the US/Canada around the turn of the millennium that May 1st has started to become more and more relevant in todays hyper-capitalist world here. Going forward I believe several tactics to be important to reclaim May 1st, especially in lieu of the capitalists stranglehold on all of throughout the pandemic.
The Neoliberalism & Globalization ushered into reality by Thatcher and Reagan also caused a psychological shift in our own understanding of class and work. Movies like “Wall Street” wrongly and purposedly glorified individualism, greed and turned words/actions such as Solidarity and Unions into words of perceived weakness. This was by design, our current reality in the global North West was largely shaped by a psychological media onslaught, in combination with debt, status through consumption etc, not only to be in direct opposition to communism but furthermore, to alienate us from our actuality. That being, we are mere parts of a machine, poised for exploitation, for the enrichment of a select few at the cost of destroying our planet. That is changing and it is our role to push that change to a critical mass reality by removing the faux-stigma of solidarity and class awareness. We are workers. We create Wealth. We Create Peace, through Solidarity, Intersectionality, Internationalism and in the eternally powerful words: “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”.
Looking to the future I believe our contribution to this struggle is a mixture of self-honesty/awareness in our relationship to work, understanding our value, unity, solidarity without question, understanding and teaching that IF even there are no jobs, there is heaps of work to be done. We need to change our value system where we address everyones material needs and change their conditions accordingly. We all know what we need and once we become aware that every single need can be addressed through political will, we once again need to take to the street and ensure this.
May 1st is representative of this mindset. It is OUR day to celebrate, to express our solidarity with one another in the purest, most honest form, by putting our bodies into the streets, showing up, speaking, talking, listening and becoming aware that, truly, we are the 99%, the world over.
Do what you can, when and how you can. Movements are about taking power, not to be seen. Once again, in the mighty words of Marx, updated for the 21st Century:
From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.
Stand up and be counted Comrades.
“...Let the winds lift your banners from far lands
With a message of strife and of hope:
Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands
That gathers your cause in its scope....
...Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.
When the World's Workers, sisters and brothers,
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life—not for others,
For the earth and its fulness is theirs.
Walter Crane, The Workers' Maypole, 1894