Happy May Day Friends and Fellow Workers!
May Day is the international day of labor celebrated around the world and it had its origin here in the United States as I will discuss shortly.
May Day, unlike US Labor Day, which is observed at the end of the summer, has always been an anti-capitalist celebration. Capitalism is the prevailing system in this country as well as, with variations, all the other countries around the globe, including the 2nd world so-called Communist states.
The system has several characteristics:
1. Every workplace is an absolute dictatorship. The boss tells us what we are to do, how we are to do it, and how fast. We give up our volition when we enter the workplace.
2. Everything we produce and every service we provide is owned by the boss. We get back a fraction of the wealth we create as pay. The remainder, after allowing for overhead and other expenses, remains with the boss as profit. Every employer I ever had was a millionaire.
3. Life for a worker under capitalism is marked by precariousness. The moment the boss stops making a profit off us we are thrown out the door. I can’t tell you how many times I was layed off, a common experience for working people.
4. Capitalism imposes on our class the wage system–the system under which we are paid the going rate for our labor. Our labor is, like the products or services we create, a commodity. Alienation from our product and the alienated social relationship working like this produces is the reason Karl Marx, a century and a half ago, called for the abolition of the wage system.
Now as I said earlier, May Day as the international day of labor originated in the US. In 1886 the trade unions called for a general strike on May 1 to win for workers an 8-hour workday. Across the country thousands and thousands of workers struck and were prepared to stay out until the 8-hour day was granted. The movement was strongest in Chicago where anarchists and socialists had been organizing for years. The movement was enjoying success and a number of shops re-opened on the 8-hour basis, more signing on as the days passed. Then on May 4 the situation changed dramatically. A protest meeting had been called that evening in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in reaction to the police having killed several strikers on a picket line the previous day. As the peaceful meeting was coming to an end a contingent of police entered the Square, ordered the crowd to disperse and immediately charged at the crowd with raised batons. Before they reached the demonstrators someone threw a bomb into their midst, killing several. The cops drew their revolvers and began firing indiscriminately killing several of their fellow police. The identity of the bomb thrower has never been established but the government unleashed a huge red scare. Hundreds of workers and radicals were arrested. The 8-hour movement went into a temporary eclipse and the gains of early May were wiped out. Eventually the state put 8 men on trial for murder. All were anarchists and socialists, all had been active in the labor movement, belonging to the Knights of Labor and to the unions in the trades they worked at. 7 were immigrants, mostly from Germany.
There was not so much as a shred of evidence connecting any of them to the bomb. Some of them had not even been present in the Haymarket, but at the conclusion of the thoroughly rigged trial they were all found guilty. 5 were sentenced to be executed which they were on November 11, 1887. The remaining 3 were given savagely long prison sentences.
So on May Day we honor the memory of the Haymarket Martyrs who were guilty of nothing except standing up for their class. They are August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel and Louis Lingg. Their comrades who were not executed were Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe.
A few years later at a Labor and Socialist congress in Europe the delegation from the American Federation of Labor proposed May Day as international labor day in recognition of the events of 1886. It caught on immediately and in a short time workers around the world celebrated it.
As we stand here today millions of our fellow workers around the globe are celebrating and proclaiming our solidarity and the hope for a better society.
Boston Labor Solidarity Committee