The first day of May, or May Day as it is often referred, is an international celebration of the achievements of labor movements for the rights of workers.
The first day of May, or May Day as it is often referred, is an international celebration of the achievements of labor movements for the rights of workers. It is also synonymous with International Workers’ Day in the United States, a day to commemorate the 1886
The year 1886 was hot with struggles for workers’ rights. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions set 1886 for the time when the eight-hour workday would be instated. Up to half a million people rallied across the United States on May 1, 1886, in a general strike to ensure the implementation of the eight-hour workday.
The strike lasted three days and ended in bloodshed when, during one of the rallies, police opened fire and killed four strikers in Chicago. This was met with another rally in Haymarket Square, where the police opened fire yet again, responding to a claim that an unknown person threw a bomb in the crowd. A least a dozen were killed.
The event was used as an excuse to put eight people on trial for their political affiliations, though not necessarily for their involvement in the bombing, which has never been solved. The trial ended with the public hanging of four anarchists.
In recent years, May Day has not only been used to highlight the history of radical labor movements in the United States but also to bring up the injustices that immigrants, documented and not, still suffer in our country.
This year’s May Day in Portland is expected to draw people of many different political affiliations
and interests. Some of the themes cited include, “Stop the Attacks on the Working Class,” “From Cairo to Wisconsin to Portland” and “Immigration Rights are Workers’ Rights.”
In 1958, in an attempt to counter the heavily left-wing orientation of May Day celebrations, anti-communist crusader Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with Congress, created Law Day and Loyalty Day.
Many administrations have followed in Eisenhower’s footsteps and called for a celebration of Loyalty Day on May 1. President Obama has in previous years and is expected to issue a statement in the days before May 1.
The Portland branch of the Industrial Workers of the World Union will be at the spirited march through downtown as well. The Wobblies, as IWW union members are often known, will be hosting a sing-along at the rally of traditional labor tunes.
“Workers attending any May Day event should be hearing lots of songs,” said one Portland Wobbly, whose name is protected here for possible retaliation by his employer. “The Labor history of America is more about singing on the picket line than throwing bombs.”
There are many causes to support at the May Day march, but the quest for greater worker rights is the top of the list. The politicians who try to make May 1 about laws and loyalty are acting as though all of our demands were achieved back in the 1800s. As is demonstrated by the recent Wisconsin protests, as well as the day-to-day struggle of workers, this simply isn’t so.
“Workers like me are starting to realize that the employing class and the working class have nothing in common. Workers want sustainable businesses to build their lives in the way they see fit, and employers just want more money—more, more, more,” said the Portland Wobbly. “It’s like the only word they seem know. That is, unless you are the one asking for more money, Then their vocabulary suddenly changes.”
Just as the people who came before us fought and achieved the eight-hour workday through the direct action of striking, rallying and marching, we can use the first of May to make our demands as workers heard. We can sit placated and allow those in power to tell us this is a day of loyalty and law, or we can come out in full force to demonstrate that it is a day for the workers that have built this country.
“As a former college student I had to learn the hard way what happens when an economy collapses. Getting back in the education system was a non-option for me despite my honors bachelor’s degree,” said the Portland Wobbly. “I had to learn that a degree doesn’t equal a job, as the prevailing wisdom of the time would tell you. Colleges are flooded and the availability of real living-wage jobs is shrinking. This is due to the rise of free market capitalism and the defeat of private sector labor unions.” ?