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May Day and the Workers of the World
There was a time when May First meant solidarity for labor here in the U.S. Now, except for a few labor union efforts, it's just the first day in May.
May Day was the day when workers around the world showed they had spunk. They had solidarity. They had the numbers (Hundreds, if not thousands of workers marched together on May Days all over the planet) They made their voices heard.
Did it change anything? Maybe a little. For a time. But here we are, worse off when it comes to wage equity than we’ve been in more than a half century. Labor once again takes a back seat to the raging fever of capitalism. Union activity is at an all-time low and the majority seem to think that’s a good thing.
We stopped manufacturing goods and moved to a service economy—something the wisest among us warned against—and laborers are once again expendable. Strikes, for the most part, have become a thing of the past. Threats to shut down entire factories had an impact while they lasted, until the Reagan administration make off-shoring and outsourcing acceptable ways to bypass having to pay living wages to Americans when workers in third-world countries would do it for pennies rather than dollars.
American workers were screwed, and the rich got richer. But even after we realized how terrible a service economy was for a once-thriving middle class, the people who had initially foisted low wage jobs on an entire society were rewarded with government positions giving them the power to allow capitalism to grow to such heights billionaires are now a dime a dozen and the minimum wage is stagnant at $7.25.
So it’s not surprising that May Day as a day for workers to crow a little and let their voices be heard is yet another victim of a society that would allow a vile, ignorant billionaire to become president and allow an entire political party to send the message that our particular form of constitutional democracy is for suckers.
This is piece I published on May 1, 2010. I’m leaving all of the links and references in so you can see how little progress we’ve made since then. You’ll notice many of the same perpetrators are still active today.
This is no time to celebrate.
First published at Ramona’s Voices, May 1, 2010:
May Day: Workers of the World, Hang in There
In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:
•Workingmen to Arms!
•War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
•The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
•One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
•MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner. IWW, The Brief Origins of May Day
Okay, so that's the kind of thing that gave Socialists a bad name. In the name of civility and good manners we've moved on to less violent (but probably less effective) ways of getting our message across. The larger point here, though, is that since the 19th century, workers of the world have embraced May Day as the day to honor the sacrifices of the laboring classes.
In 1958, despite Joe McCarthy's earlier best efforts, the Cold War Commies and Socialists were still purportedly climbing out from under every rock in every little burg in the US. The VFW saw trouble in those midcentury May Day celebrations and foiled those plotters by renaming it "Loyalty Day". Congress made it official, and Ike actually signed it into law. But now, apart from a few VFW chapters and a few small towns, Loyalty Day is pretty much forgotten. (Not that loyalty isn't important, mind you. It is. My loyalty to labor knows no bounds.)
Despite their best efforts, May Day demonstrations in America are still going strong. Much of it centers on the controversial Arizona "Show your Papers" law today, as hundreds of thousands in cities and towns all across the country are scheduled to march in solidarity against immigration and worker abuses.
But even as I write this, James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family, is leading May Day, a Cry to God for a Nation in Distress on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dobson and others, including Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, are calling it a "day of repentance and remembrance", addressing "The greatest moral crisis since the Civil War", which seems to include abortion, Obamacare, Obama in general, and the scary notion that there are more "Socialists" than Republicans running Congress these days.
The Liberty Council will be there, as well. They wouldn't want to pass up a chance to sell their membership cards:
Oy. . .
If you’re remembering May Day as a day to recognize laborers and their contributions to society, Solidarity! Union Strong! We can do this!
If you’re celebrating it as a day to revel in sunshine and warmth, dancing around maypoles and wearing wreaths of spring flowers, remember the workers. Most of what you have today came because they worked hard so you could get it.
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