Happy International Workers Day.
Today more than ever, the workers of the world need to unite. As billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk try to force their workers to return to factories despite the COVID-19 risks (and without additional pay or benefits) and as Donald Trump and Republican governors try to re-open their states and ‘send people back to work’ without understanding the risks, and as Wall Street bails itself out using money for small business and the US Congress chooses to bail out billionaires over working moms – all of these things should be revitalizing the labor movement. Today, we should be looking at the gross inequities that have made ‘essential workers’ some of the lowest paid with the least benefits while ‘non-essential workers’ have the cushion to sit out this crisis with no risk.
The capitalist USA political machine has always been scared of organized labor, they’ve always been scared of workers organizing, and they’ve always been scared of the workers controlling the means of production. They’ve labored such things as red, communist, socialist, or anti-American. The reason is capitalist class have always depended on the slave labor of the workers to make themselves rich. There has been a war against organized labor in this country for a long while and the capitalists are winning it even as 30 million US workers suddenly find themselves unemployed due to COVID-19..
Gone are the days when unions were controlled by the workers, gone are the days when there were calls for shorter work days, shorter work weeks, higher pay, better benefits, or lifetime security for loyal workers – instead we live in a country where companies are immortal and workers are hired as ‘contractors’ which is a fancy way of saying they have no job security and no benefits they don’t provide for themselves. Those contract workers, by the way, have been sidelined and for the most part have not received any sort of bailout or unemployment yet – although the government (to it’s credit) has set about creating a bailout for them – but most regular unemployed workers are either still waiting for unemployment or haven’t been able to log in to overwhelmed state systems.
In 1886, on May 4th, following organized labor activities and protests (on May 1st – the real labor day) which followed demands for an 8 hour workday – police killed several protestors and riots ensued – culminating in protestors bombing the police with dynamite and the police killing four more and then seven being sentenced to death for conspiracy. This, many say, is the origin of the world’s labor day on May 1st ( though actually, MayDay goes further back than that) – in a sense – one could argue that communism has it’s militant roots in this American event – thus is an American institution which has been villified and made to appear foreign and anti-American.
President Grover Cleveland feared that MayDay celebrations would be used to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre and celebrations were banned. After the Pullman Strike where Federal Marshalls and U.S. military killed workers demanding safer conditions, the government rushed to create a National ‘Labor’ Day – but designated it be in September to avoid remembrance of government brutality towards workers demanding better conditions and safer work environments. The choice of September 1st was blatantly political and championed by President Grover Cleveland to disempower nascent Communist, Anarchist, and Syndicalist movements which used MayDay as a rallying point to bring workers to a more empowered system.
The United States has defeated organized labor. They have villainized labor as mobsters, communists, and criminals. They have created a holiday that disempowers workers from solidarity with workers in other countries, and they have impovershed workers to the point where we are working longer hours, getting less benefits, and earning less money or we are not working at all. There is no need to outlaw labor organizations because they are already frequently working against labor.
Congratulations America. Happy May Day.