Tuesday is May Day, or International Workers’
Day. This isn’t a holiday like the others. This is not a holiday where the politicians come out to smile for the cameras. Hallmark doesn’t sell a card and there is no cartoon mascot for this holiday. International Workers’ Day is a holiday to remember the past struggles of the working class, to take a look at our own circumstances and gather our forces. It is a day to fight back against the attacks waged against us by the wealthy elite and the politicians who serve them. This is one holiday that we’ve gone too long without celebrating.
International Workers’ Day was born in the U.S. It started during the fight for the eight-hour day in 1886. Workers in Chicago launched a movement that stretched across the U.S., with workers demanding “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will!” They were met by intense repression, with the leaders of the movement sentenced to death by the courts. May 1st was chosen to remember this struggle and has been celebrated worldwide ever since.
But of course we aren’t taught this version of history in school. We are taught that only great leaders, politicians and geniuses make history, not us. But nothing could be more wrong. Would there have been an end to slavery in this country without a massive struggle and a civil war? Would people have won the right to have unions without hard-fought strikes? Would civil rights for black people have been won without confronting the racism of
this society? Every change worth writing about in the history books has been a struggle by workers, the poor, and oppressed people against exploitation.
So what about now, in the 21st century? Our lives are under attack from every angle.
Unemployment is the highest it’s been in thirty years. Those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs are facing major cuts. If we have pensions, they’re on the chopping block. If we have health care, they’re jacking up our premiums. And day in and day out we do more work for the same pay. Meanwhile our society is falling apart. Our schools are facing cuts, and those students lucky enough to graduate with the hope of college find themselves in massive debt. Social services that care for the elderly and disabled are being slashed,
and programs that help poor families are being cut.
But not everyone is suffering. The banks have received $13 trillion dollars in bailouts and loans since 2008. And they aren’t experiencing the crisis at all. They are making record profits, the highest since World War II. Every day we pay a little more, and they profit at our expense. This crisis is not only the experience of American workers. In Greece, Spain, Italy and all over Europe, we have seen the same attacks –workers forced to pay for the crisis. The wealthy elite are pushing people beyond their limits.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve already seen the beginnings of resistance. Greece
and Spain have had massive strikes against the attacks. And here in the U.S., we saw the Occupy movement, where thousands of people protested the banks and corporations.
We don’t have to look too far back to see what May Day could mean. In 2006 millions of
immigrant workers in the U.S. protested a proposed bill to limit immigrant rights. Chicago’s meat packing industry was shut down. The port of Los Angeles was closed. And countless restaurants and shops across the U.S. were closed. On that May Day it was clear whose power really makes society run – those who do the actual work.
This is what May Day should mean. Imagine if the working class was organized to use that power here in the U.S. and in the rest of the world as well. We could not only stop the attacks of the banks and governments. We could put an end to their system of exploitation once and for all. No wonder they don’t want us to know our own history.