All out for the 132nd May Day!

by James Markin
Today the United States is facing a series of crises. First there is the pandemic which has strangled the economy and kick-started an economic catastrophe. Then there is the housing crisis, as unpaid rent stacks up and working people across the country face the prospect of losing their homes. Just as dangerous is the jobs crisis, as the economy plummets and those furloughed have to seek work elsewhere to make ends meet. Perhaps most horrific, the state faces a crisis of its racist apparatus of repression as the unrelenting murder of black and brown people by police officers continues. There is also the crisis at the border, as the new Biden administration struggles to repel refugees fleeing the carnage that previous US governments inflicted on central America. As if that was not enough, the US is also still caught in an imperialist quagmire, as the armed forces further push back the day that they will withdraw from Afghanistan to September 11th, after 20 years and more than 43,000 civilian deaths.
In the face of a country, and indeed a world, so in crisis, it is easy to lose hope and sink into despair or defeatism. This is why it is so important for activists and militants to take time every year to reflect and regroup. It is for this purpose that since 1889 the workers’ movement around the world has marked May 1st as International Workers’ Day or May Day. On May 1st we take time to mourn those who have been taken from us, celebrate the victories that have been achieved, and steel ourselves for the battles that are to come.
This day, although inaugurated by the international workers movement, has its origins in the United States. In the 1860s, workers all around the world were struggling for limits on the number of hours they could be forced to toil by their bosses. In place of a work schedule entirely dictated by employers, worker activists, socialists, and anarchists of all stripes sought to impose a strict limit of 8 hours of work per day. Here in the United States, that demand fell on deaf ears until workers took action. On May 1st, 1886 a general strike was proclaimed by labor organizations across the country. Hundreds of thousands of workers went out on strike demanding an 8-hour work day in all of the major industrial centers of the country. The most famous events of this strike would take place in Chicago, where tens of thousands marched down Michigan Avenue led by the well-known and respected anarchist leaders, Albert and Lucy Parsons. As the government and industrialists showed no signs of conceding an 8-hour work day, the strike continued and by May 3rd police and hired goons tried to break the picket lines by force, killing striking workers. Horrified by these killings, the anarchists organized a rally of workers against police violence for the next day. As the anarchists peacefully addressed the crowd from on top of a platform in the busy Haymarket Square, police came forward and ordered it to disperse. As the police moved in, someone threw a bomb at their feet, killing seven policemen. The crowd scattered, and police opened fire as workers ran, killing four, before arresting the anarchists who had organized the rally. Despite being up on the stage in full view of thousands of people when the bomb was thrown, the police chose the anarchists as scapegoats and pinned the bomb attack solely on them. Kangaroo courts were quickly organized, and seven of the anarchist leaders, including some who had not even been present at Haymarket Square, were sentenced to death. It was in the memory of the Haymarket martyrs that the founders of the Second International chose May 1st to be International Workers Day. The Haymarket affair embodies both the great sacrifices made by workers in struggle and the power that the working class has to transform the world.
Since the Haymarket affair, May Day has also stood as a rallying cry for working class internationalism. Even when countries go to war, May Day has often stood as a symbol of worker’s refusal to kill fellow workers from other countries. For example, on May 1st, 1919 the Socialist Party of the United States, organized an enormous rally in Cleveland Ohio, and condemned the imperialist First World War while demanding the release of political prisoners like Eugene V. Debs, who were arrested for speaking out against the war. In response, police backed by tanks brutally attacked the over 20,000 marching workers, killing two and arresting the leader of the march, Charles Ruthenburg who would later go on to be a founder of the Communist Party. The response of the government to this rally shows just how afraid they really were of working people uniting across borders against imperialist war.
This idea of May 1st symbolizing the need for workers to stand with each other even across national boundaries also led the immigrant movement to chose May 1st 2006 as the “day without an immigrant.” On that day, activists around the country launched a powerful general strike of immigrant workers which effectively killed the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill in the US Senate. This law, among other things, would have severely curtailed immigrants’ ability to find employment by forcing every resident and citizen of the USA to receive federal permission to work. The actions of May 1st 2006 are an enduring symbol of the power the working class has to change the world.
That is why this May 1st, whether we are marching in the streets or attending a virtual gathering online, all of us should celebrate the power of the organized working class and remember that only our class can solve the myriad crises faced by capitalist society. While from time to time the capitalists and forces of reaction might force us to retreat, as the Haymarket Martyr August Spies said, “if you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden… expect salvation. If this is your opinion then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there and beyond you and in front of you and everywhere flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand… for everything breathes the revolutionary spirit!”
For a revolutionary May Day!
Workers of the world unite!

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