Friday, May 01, 2020

Happy May Day! (International Workers’ Day)

May Day Russian Constructivism
The following, albeit lightly edited, is from the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee’s (1912-2012) Facebook post several years ago accounting for the distinction between May Day and Labor Day in this country: 

“Ever wonder why the U.S. celebrates Labor Day, the first Monday in Sept, while May 1 is a day recognized around the world as a workers’ holiday, a day of solidarity between workers of all nationalities? It was bound up with the struggle for the shorter workday – a demand of major political significance for the working class. ‘Eight hours for work —eight for rest—and eight for what we will.’

Already at the opening of the 19th century workers in the United States made known their grievances against working from ‘sunrise to sunset,’ the then prevailing workday. Fourteen, sixteen and even eighteen hours a day were not uncommon. The 1820s and 1830s are full of strikes for reduction of hours of work and demands for a 10-hour day were put forward in many industrial centers —the Mechanics’ Union of Philadelphia, led a strike of building trade workers in Philadelphia in 1827 for the 10-hour day — Lowell’s ‘mill girls’ Mill did the same. 

The 8-hour day movement, which directly gave birth to May Day, is connected to the general movement initiated in the U.S. On August 20, 1866, delegates from over 50 craft unions formed the National Labor Union. At its founding convention the following resolution dealt with the shorter workday: ‘The first and great necessity of the present, to free labor of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which 8 hours shall be the normal working day in all states in the American union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is attained.’
The First International adopted the Eight-Hour Day in Sept. 1866 at [its] Geneva Congress … :  ‘The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive .... The Congress proposes 8 hours as the legal limit of the working day.’ 

The Second International, held at Paris in 1889, designated May 1st be set aside as a day upon which the workers of the world, organized in their political parties and trade unions, were to fight for the 8-hour day. The Paris decision had been influenced by events in the U.S. in 1886 where there had been a call for a general strike on May 1st, 1886, for the 8-hour day.

Strikes and lockouts in 1885 increased to about 700 and the number of workers involved jumped to 250,000. In 1886 the number of strikes more than doubled. On May Day, 90,000 marched in Chicago, in New York, 10,000 marched to Union Square. Eleven thousand marched in Detroit. May Day rallies in Louisville and Baltimore were remarkable for their black-white unity. In NYC, labor leader Samuel Gompers, told the crowd, ‘May 1st would be remembered as a second declaration of independence.’ 

But the event that guaranteed May Day a place in the history of the working class took place three days later at Haymarket Square in Chicago. There, an 8-hour Association was formed long in advance of the May 1, 1886 strike. Events of May 3 and 4, which led to what is known as the Haymarket Affair, were an outgrowth of the May 1st strike. A demonstration on May 4 at Haymarket Square was called to protest a deadly attack of the police upon a meeting of striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works on May 3, where six workers were killed and many wounded. The meeting was peaceful and ended when the police marched into the Square. A bomb was thrown into the crowd, killing a sergeant; a battle ensued and seven policemen and four workers were dead.

A witch hunt against militant workers, especially the anarchist leaders followed and eight men were arrested. The trial produced no evidence that any of them threw the bomb, nor that any of them had conspired to throw it. Prosecuting Attorney Julius Grinnel said in his closing remarks, ‘Law is upon trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the grand jury and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands that follow them…. Convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and save our institutions, our society.’ 

Seven men were sentenced to death; two petitioned for clemency and had their sentences commuted to life in prison; and 21-year-old Louis Lingg exploded a dynamite tube in his mouth while in jail. The four were hanged on November 11, 1887. One year after the hanging of the Chicago labor leaders, the American Federation of Labor voted to rejuvenate the movement for the 8-hour day May 1st, which was already a tradition, was chosen as the day to re-inaugurate the struggle for the 8-hour day. Yet leaders of the A. F. of L. limited the strike movement. While May Day picked up momentum across the world, it lost steam in its country of origin. In 1905 the AFL disavowed May Day altogether, choosing instead to celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September, the national holiday sanctioned by the federal government in 1894. May Day in the U.S. was nevertheless still celebrated. In 1910 the Socialist Party brought 60,000 into the streets of New York City for May Day, including 10,000 women of the Shirt Waist Makers’ Union.”

May Day image
Sundry Reflections in Honor of May Day (International Workers’ Day) 

“Once again the time has come to take Marx seriously.”—Eric Hobsbawm

“In the Marxist tradition, self-realisation is the full and free actualisation and externalisation of the powers and the abilities of the individual. [….] Under suitable conditions, both [political democracy and economic democracy] can be arenas for joint self-realisation.”—Jon Elster 

“We have gone so far as to divorce work from culture, and to think of culture as something to be acquired in hours of leisure; but there can only be a hothouse and unreal culture where itself is not its means; if culture does not show itself in all we make we are not cultured. [….] Industry without art is brutality.”—Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

May Day SA
Eleven Criticisms of Capitalism
  1. Capitalist class relations perpetuate eliminable forms of human suffering.
  2. Capitalism blocks the universalization of conditions for expansive human flourishing.
  3. Capitalism perpetuates eliminable deficits in individual freedom and autonomy.
  4. Capitalism violates liberal egalitarian principles of social justice.
  5. Capitalism in inefficient in certain critical respects.
  6. Capitalism has a systematic bias towards consumerism.
  7. Capitalism is environmentally destructive.
  8. Capitalist commodification threatens important broadly held values.
  9. Capitalism in a world of nation-states fuels militarism and imperialism.
  10. Capitalism corrodes community.
  11. Capitalism limits democracy.
—From Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias (Verso, 2010)

May Day Egypt
Economic Democracy
“I have argued that economic Democracy, as a system, will be less alienating than Laissez Faire. To summarize the reasons: Workers will have more participatory autonomy under Economic Democracy, because the degree of workplace democracy will not be restricted by the capitalists’ need to keep open all options for profit. The labor-leisure trade-off should be more in accordance with the general interest under Economic Democracy, because workers will have a greater interest in promoting more flexible, less frantic, more meaningful working arrangements, as well as shorter hours and longer vacations, than do capitalists, who bear the costs and risks of such changers (under Laissez Faire) but do not receive the full benefits. Workers are likely to be more skilled under Economic Democracy, because neither competitive pressures nor the need for control will push so hard toward deskilling.”—David Schweickart, Against Capitalism (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996)

May Day garland America the Possible: The Values 

[….] “Many thoughtful Americans have concluded that addressing our many challenges will require the rise of a new consciousness, with different values becoming dominant in American culture. For some, it is a spiritual awakening—a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all, the possibility of a sustainable and just future will require major cultural change and a reorientation regarding what society values and prizes most highly. 

In America the Possible, our dominant culture will have shifted, from today to tomorrow, in the following ways:
  • from seeing humanity as something apart from nature, transcending and dominating it, to seeing ourselves as part of nature, offspring of its evolutionary process, close kin to wild things, and wholly dependent on its vitality and the finite services it provides;
  • from seeing nature in strictly utilitarian terms—humanity’s resource to exploit as it sees fit for economic and other purposes—to seeing the natural world as having intrinsic value independent of people and having rights that create the duty of ecological stewardship;
  • from discounting the future, focusing severely on the near term, to taking the long view and recognizing duties to future generations;
  • from today’s hyper-individualism and narcissism, and the resulting social isolation, to a powerful sense of community and social solidarity reaching from the local to the cosmopolitan;
  • from the glorification of violence, the acceptance of war, and the spreading of hate and invidious divisions to the total abhorrence of these things;
  • from materialism and consumerism to the prioritization of personal and family relationships, learning, experiencing nature, spirituality, service, and living within limits;
  • from tolerating gross economic, social, and political inequality to demanding a high measure of equality in all these spheres.
We actually know important things about how values and culture can be changed. One sure path to cultural change is, unfortunately, the cataclysmic event—the crisis—that profoundly challenges prevailing values and de-legitimizes the status quo. The Great Depression is the classic example. I think we can be confident that we haven’t seen the end of major crises. 

Two other key factors in cultural change are leadership and social narrative. Leaders have enormous potential to change minds, and in the process they can change the course of history. And there is some evidence that Americans are ready for another story. Large majorities of Americans, when polled, express disenchantment with today’s lifestyles and offer support for values similar to those urged here. 

Another way in which values are changed is through social movements. Social movements are about consciousness raising, and, if successful, they can help usher in a new consciousness—perhaps we are seeing its birth today. When it comes to issues of social justice, peace, and environment, the potential of faith communities is vast as well. Spiritual awakening to new values and new consciousness can also derive from literature, philosophy, and science. [….] 

Education, of course, can also contribute enormously to cultural change. Here one should include education in the largest sense, embracing not only formal education but also day-to-day and experiential education as well as the fast-developing field of social marketing. Social marketing has had notable successes in moving people away from bad behaviors such as smoking and drunk driving, and its approaches could be applied to larger cultural change as well. 

A major and very hopeful path lies in seeding the landscape with innovative, instructive models. In the United States today, there is a proliferation of innovative models of community revitalization and business enterprise. Local currencies, slow money, state Genuine Progress Indicators, locavorism—these are bringing the future into the present in very concrete ways. These actual models will grow in importance as communities search for visions of how the future should look, and they can change minds—seeing is believing. Cultural transformation won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.” [….]—From James Gustave Speth’s “America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part II,” Orion magazine (May/June 2012)

Global Justice

 “[A]ffluent people in developed countries have duties to respond to globalization with measures that would strengthen developing economies because otherwise they would take advantage of people in developing countries. A person takes advantage of someone if he derives a benefit from her difficulty in advancing her interests in interactions in which both participate, in a process that shows inadequate regard fro the equal moral importance of her interests and her capacity for choice. In the case of globalization, the central difficulties are bargaining weaknesses due to desperate neediness. [….]

[M]ajor unmet transnational responsibilities [are located] in two aspects of globalization. The first corresponds to the familiar charge that transnational corporations exploit. In transnational processes of production, trade, and investment, people in developed countries currently take advantage of bargaining weaknesses of individuals desperately seeking work in developing countries, in way that show inadequate appreciation of their interests and capacities for choice. Responding to this moral flaw, a citizen of a developed country ought to use benefits derived from this use of weakness to relieve the underlying neediness. The other aspect corresponds to familiar charges of inequity in the institutional framework that regulates world trade and finance. The multinational arrangements that sustain globalization depend on tainted deliberations in which the governments of developed countries take advantage of the weak capacity to resist their threats of governments of developing countries. Citizens of developed countries should support arrangements that would be the outcome of responsible deliberations based on relevant shared values, a shift that would entail giving up large current advantages to promote the interests of people in developing countries.” — Richard W. Miller, Globalizing Justice: The Ethics of Poverty and Power (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Suggested Reading:
  • American Social History Project (Herbert G. Gutman, Director, and Stephen Brier, Editor) (various contributors). Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. One: From Conquest and Colonization through Reconstruction and the Great Uprising of 1877 (Pantheon Books, 1989).
  • American Social History Project (Herbert G. Gutman, Director, and Stephen Brier, Editor) (various contributors). Who Built America? Working People and the Nations's Economy, Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. Two: From the Gilded Age to the Present (Pantheon Books, 1992).
  • Avrich, Paul. The Haymarket Tragedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
  • Brecher, Jeremy. Strike! (Straight Arrow Books, 1972).
  • Foner, Philip S. May Day: A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday 1886-1986 (International Publishers, 1986).
  • Green, James. Death in the Haymarket.... (Pantheon Books, 2006).
  • Hobsbawm, Eric. “The Transformation of Labour Rituals,” in Hobsbawm’s book, Workers: Worlds of Labor (Pantheon, 1985): 66-82.
  • “May Day” at the Marxist Internet Archive
  • “May Day,” by Scott Molloy, in Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas, eds., The Encyclopedia of the American Left (Garland, 1990): 455-457.
  • Roediger, Dave and Franklin Rosemont, eds. Haymarket Scrapbook (Charles H. Kerr Publ. Co., 1986).
Relevant bibliographies freely available on my Academia page:
  • Anarchism: Philosophy & Praxis
  • Beyond Capitalist-Attenuated Time: Freedom, Leisure, and Self-Realization
  • Beyond Inequality: Toward the Globalization of Welfare, Well-Being and Human Flourishing
  • Beyond Punitive Capitalist and Liberal Society
  • Blacks on the (Radical) Left
  • The Black Panther Party
  • Capitalist and Other Distortions of Democratic Education — From Etiological Diagnosis to Therapeutic Regimen
  • César Chávez & the United Farm Workers
  • Democratic Theory
  • Detroit: Labor & Industrialization, Race & Politics, Rebellion & Resurgence
  • Frantz Fanon
  • The Life, Work and Legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi
  • Global Distributive Justice
  • The Great Depression & The New Deal
  • Health: Law, Ethics & Social Justice
  • Human Rights
  • Immigration & Refugees: Ethics, Law, and Politics
  • L.R. James: Marxist Humanist & Afro-Trinidadian Socialist
  • Toward an Understanding of Liberalism
  • Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)
  • Marxism
  • Marxism (or ‘the Left’), Art & Aesthetics
  • Marxism and Freudian Psychology
  • Toward a Marxist Theory of International Law
  • Otto Neurath & Red Vienna: Mutual Philosophical, Scientific and Socialist Fecundity
  • Toward a “Realist” Social and Political Psychology
  • Punishment and Prison
  • Radical Catholicism (The Catholic Worker Movement, Liberation Theology…)
  • Social Security & the Welfare State
  • Utopian Imagination, Thought and Praxis
  • Workers, the World of Work, and Labor Law
May Day Vietnam


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