Monday, May 01, 2017

A May-Day message to fellow-workers

 A General Strike of May 1, 1886 was called. On that day 300,000 to half a million workers set down their tools and marched in the largest industrial cities in North America. 80,000 in Chicago, 10,000 in Detroit, New York, St. Louis, etc. In an action of this size happened today, 4 to 6 million would be on strike and 100s of thousands in the streets. In Milwaukee 7 strikers and witnesses were killed by State Militia and 4 more by Police in Chicago. On May 4th a rally was held to protest the shootings itself turned violent when police waded into a peaceful crowd and someone threw a bomb into the police line. Shooting broke out and 7 police and at least 4 workers were dead. According to contemporary newspaper reports, most of the police dead were caused by other police fire. In the aftermath, seven labor leaders who organized the rally, were arrested for murder of the police. Because of the men’s anarchist politics 6 were sentenced to hang and 4 were executed, including one who had been at home with his children at the time of the rally. This Haymarket Affair and subsequent trial was followed throughout the world. It is widely held as one of the worst cases of judicial injustice in American history.

In 1890, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) requested that the Socialist International call an international day of action agitating for an 8 hour work day. The International agreed and call for international rallies to be held on May First to commemorate the strike of 1886. This is the origin of Mayday as International Labor Day.

Today the average work-week in the US is 46 hours and there is an increase in poorer workers working multiple jobs just to get by. This explains which nearly a third of Americans work more than 50 hours a week. Compare this to the legal maximum of 45 hours the British Empire established for Plantation slaves. On average, modern Americans work longer than plantation slaves in the 1800s.

Why is it, that despite all the struggles, the marches, the organizing, we are more or less in the similar place as in 1886?
The World Socialist Movement argues it is because we haven’t learned the lessons of the first May-Day. As Marx first showed, and we have argued since our inception as a political movement, in capitalism, the rich grow richer and all workers can do within capitalism is slow that process down. It is capitalism as a whole system - wages, profits, markets - which needs abolishing. The murder or intimidation of one ruthless boss won’t help. Nor will the formal change of the social structure at a particular workplace into a collective, etc. We need to see the enemy as entirety, only then can we make decisions to free ourselves and the world.

In 1886 strikers carried banners which stated a simple truth:
Labor creates all wealth, All wealth belongs to labor”

Working people need to learn and understand that truth. The capitalists need us, we do not need it. The rich will continue to get richer and we will continue to march on Mayday until a majority of us decide that enough is enough. Sure, let’s support those who try and defend or increase their wages, but let’s face facts, in the long term they aren’t going to be any more than what it takes for us to merely survive. Capitalism is killing us and it is killing the world. There is enough for all and a decent life can be had only when socialism is established.

Movements are communities of thought that reflect priorities and assumptions, and a lack of practical democracy mirrors the same lack of interest in real democracy that clutters the worldview of most capitalists. Without insisting on democratic control, workers will find themselves once again muscled out of the chance to really overthrow capitalism. Don't let outside organizations turn leaderless rallies into opportunities for self-advertisement. Anyone who cannot see through the polite fictions of capitalism is, whether they think so or not, going to end up prescribing yet another new set of bosses to replace the currently unpopular set. Do't set yourself up for realizing too late you were just a pawn in someone else's game.

Abolish the Wage System!

No comments: