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“May Day is Coming Home”
WASHINGTON - April 27 - NOAM CHOMSKY, via Karla Quinonez-Ruggiero at Adelante Alliance, occupy at adelantealliance.org
Available for a very limited numbers of interviews scheduled well in advance, Chomsky’s latest pamphlet, titled Occupy, is being released on MayDay. It’s the first of the new “Occupied Media” pamphlet series from Zuccotti Park Press. Chomsky just wrote the piece “May Day,” which states: “People seem to know about May Day everywhere except where it began, here in the United States of America. That’s because those in power have done everything they can to erase its real meaning. For example, Ronald Reagan designated what he called, ‘Law Day’ — a day of jingoist fanaticism, like an extra twist of the knife in the labor movement. Today, there is a renewed awareness, energized by the Occupy movement’s organizing, around May Day, and its relevance for reform and perhaps eventual revolution.”
MARINA SITRIN, [in NYC] marina.sitrin at gmail.com
Sitrin is co-author of the forthcoming May Day: The Secret Rendezvous, which is part of the same “Occupied Media” pamphlet series. She said today: “The Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City and elsewhere are gearing up for May Day. One of the most significant things about these protests is their ‘horizonalnzess’ — that is the lack of hierarchical structure. This is remarkably similar to how protests in Greece, Spain, Egypt and elsewhere are developing.” See for NYC: maydaynyc.org and nationwide: occupytogether.org
STAUGHTON LYND, salynd at aol.com
Lynd’s books include The Fight Against Shutdowns: Youngstown’s Steel Mill Closings, From Here to There: The Staughton Lynd Reader and Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks. He recently wrote the introduction to Howard Zinn’s re-released book On History. He said today: “There is a general impression in the U.S. that May Day is a communist holiday since communists did latch on to it eventually, but it’s a wrong impression. May Day originated in 1886 in the U.S. There was a large nationwide general strike that day, the purpose of which was to obtain an eight-hour day. There were radicals involved, but they were anarchists, not communists. On May 4 of that year, at a plant in Chicago that was locking out its workers, the authorities opened fire. So a meeting was called at the hay market and it was peaceful. Then a junior officer riled up the crowd and someone threw a bomb. The government went after the leaders of the popular movement in Chicago, who were not associated with the bomb-throwing, leading to the trial and execution of ‘the Haymarket martyrs.’
“The European social movements picked it up immediately and May Day spread around the world. It was not associated with communism until after World War I. The U.S. government has feared and sought to suppress May Day — creating things like ‘Law Day’ on May 1st and a new ‘Labor Day’ in September — as a sort of tame labor celebration. But the original May Day was neither communist nor state-endorsed, it was a holiday of the international working class.
“Since 2006, May Day has been rescued to some extent by immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala and elsewhere who see it as a workers’ holiday and a chance to come out of the shadows. And now, this year, we see the Occupy movement picking it up.”
PRISCILLA MUROLO, pmurolo at sarahlawrence.edu
Murolo’s books include From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States. She said today: “May Day is coming home. The oppression of the labor movement moved it offshore, but this year there should be extensive May Day activities inside the U.S. as well as around the world.
“In 1884, a nucleus of trade unions — which would later become the AFL — decided that, starting May 1, 1886, they would refuse to work for more than eight hours a day. When that day came, several hundred thousand workers across the country went out on strike for the eight-hour day. The movement’s vital center was Chicago, where radicals — in particular anarchists — were a core component of the trade-union movement. On May 2, Chicago police opened fire on workers picketing the McCormick tractor factory and killed some strikers. In response to these shootings, thousands of workers gathered in Haymarket Square on May 4 for an ‘indignation meeting’ called by the anarchists. As this protest drew to a close, a phalanx of police entered the Square, and someone — we still don’t know who — threw a bomb.
Among those killed by he bomb were seven police officers, and their deaths gave the enemies of the eight-hour movement a pretext to crush it. Picket lines were busted up, meetings were raided, labor activists were rounded up for questioning. In the end, eight anarchists — some of whom had not even been in Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown — were convicted of conspiracy to murder, despite a dearth of evidence against them. Four of the defendants were hanged, a fifth committed suicide, and the others were sentenced to long prison terms and later pardoned by a pro-labor governor.
“This assault on the labor movement was devastating. Not until the 1910s did labor unions establish the eight-hour day as the standard in some sectors, and it wasn’t until 1938 that the Fair Labor Standards Act defined the eight-hour day as the norm in workplaces covered by this law. The meaning of the Haymarket crackdown was not just that it derailed the eight-hour movement but also and more fundamentally that it deprived the U.S. labor movement of its most potent wing. In later years, U.S. labor radicals revived May Day. Veterans of the union organizing drives of the 1930s and 1940s will recall gigantic May Day marches in American cities, but McCarthyism saw to it that U.S. labor was once again deprived of its radical sectors.
“The re-emergence of May Day in 2011 signals of new convergence of organized labor, the immigrants rights movement, and the Occupy movement in the name of the 99%. The excitement surrounding this convergence gives us a chance to experience what our ancestors experienced — the power of a workers’ movement for better labor conditions AND for equality and human rights for one and all.” Murolo is co-director of the Graduate Program in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College.