Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Rebirth of International Workers' Day

Ever since five revolutionaries were killed by the state of Illinois back in 1886, May Day - or International Workers' Day - has been a day of working class demonstrations and resistance. In a sense we do this to commemorate those taken from us by the American authorities, but more than that, we do it to assert that we are still alive and kicking against the system which enslaves us. We mourn the dead, but we also fight like hell for the living.

Of course, there have been peaks and troughs during those one hundred and twenty-five years, but no trough has been quite so deep as the one we have been stuck in for perhaps a generation now. Certainly in the wealthiest nations, May Day has been limited to A to nowhere trudges followed by boring speeches from bureaucrats and 'left' politicians on the one hand, and maybe fun, but generally nonconstructive outbreaks of smashing stuff on the other.

Nowhere has May Day been buried further below ground than in its US birthplace, where May 1st has been a presidentially-designated 'Loyalty Day' since 1958. However, US activism is unrecognisable from even a year ago, thanks to the outbreak of the Occupy movement last summer. Though there are actions and demonstrations in almost every nation around the world, America is perhaps the epicentre of resistance today. This is fitting, since America is also the epicentre of global financial oppression.

There are May Day events in every major US city, as Occupy relaunches itself for the spring. Almost inevitably, banks are the main target, with demonstrators trying to shut down branches in New York and Chicago. Foreclosure (repossessions) has also been targeted, with actions planned in many locations.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the demonstrations has been the increasing focus on work - and abstinence from it. At its best (see for instance this solidarity with nurses in Oakland), such actions offer the possibility of forging - or rather rediscovering - the intrinsic link between the working class movement and all other sites of struggle. This is the tradition in which the Haymarket martyrs stood, and indeed it is the tradition which - in a world of globalised austerity and globalised dissent - can bring down the whole damned system.
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