May Day

May 7, 2012

You may have already heard some of the news surrounding the May Day protests on the first of this month.  Unfortunately, many media sources haven’t really explained the importance of the day in all that much detail.

International Worker’s Day, which falls on May Day, began over 100 years ago following a general strike was called in Chicago, Illinois.  Workers all over the city had left their jobs to participate in a rally at Haymarket Square demanding an 8-hour work day, no longer being able to tolerate having no option but to take 10, 12, 14, and longer hour shifts in dreadful working conditions.

At some point a bomb went off, killing several police officers, to which the police responded by firing into the crowd at innocent spectators, killing even more.  Eventually, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy, and sentenced to death or prison, even though the evidence was meager, and the prosecution found that none of them had thrown the bomb.

Outrage over the event only made the struggle for the 8-hour working day stronger, and on May 1st 1990, 4 years later, the first International Worker’s Day took place.  It would take more struggles to win the 8-hour working day around the country, but the Haymarket affair is commonly seen a catalyst for this change, and the latest Anti-Flag album, “The General Strike”, takes some of its inspiration from that historic day.

Today, May 1st continues to be celebrated and used as a day of striking and worker solidarity. This year, the day was especially prominent due in part to the success of the Occupy movement.  Occupy Wall Street called for a general strike of all workers and students, and thousands of protestors turned out on the streets in unison.  Various events were held in the city as to encourage participation, including a free university in Madison Square Park that received little to no mainstream news coverage.

“Professors and experts gathered groups around [th]em throughout the benches and pathways of this park as midtowners walking by stopped to look. There was a lesson on “horizontal pedagogy”—how to teach without hierarchy—talks by noted leftist thinkers Chris Hedges and Francis Fox Piven, a discussion about native/indigenous resistance and another about gender constructs, and most pertinently, a student debt teach-in. One guy was even leading a class on “ancient political philosophy” and I was reminded of the Athenian forum.”

In San Francisco, the Inlandboatmen’s Union staged a half-day strike, “shutting down ferry service from Sausalito to San Francisco. The ferry workers are in a dispute with management over health-care costs, and have been working without a contract for over a year.”  In Toronto, protesters took the opportunity to re-occupy, this time at Simcoe Park.  In fact, May Day marches took place all around the world, in over 135 different cities!  It would be difficult to list everything that happened in this entry, but there’s a great listing of the events that took place, here.

Finally, here’s a great video showing what the May Day strikes looked like, should you want to participate in one of next year’s rallies, or even in a similar protest.  Additionally, you can find more information on how to protest and carry on May Day’s energy by visiting here.  And if you did attend this year, please feel free to comment and post your pictures, videos, or experiences.  We would love to put them up in a future news entry!