Friday, May 1, 2015

Celebrate Labor Rights and Immigrant Rights this May Day, aka, International Worker's Day | May 1st, 2015

Do you celebrate May Day? Ever wonder about its activist history? Salon republished this piece that was originally printer by AlterNet. Check it out, learn about the move to evolve this ancient celebratory day into International Worker's Day, and stand in solidarity for economic justice, labor rights, and immigrant rights. The above photo from 1886 depicts the Haymarket affair, a key event that helped spur the May Day movement.

From Salon/AlterNet: American general strikes—or rather, American calls for general strikes, like the one Occupy Los Angeles issued last December that has been endorsed by over 150 general assemblies—are tinged with nostalgia. AlterNetThe last real general strike in this country, which is to say, the last general strike that shut down a city, was in Oakland, Calif. in 1946—though journalist John Nichols has suggested that what we saw in Madison, Wisconsin last year was a sort of general strike.

When we call a general strike, or talk of one, we refer not to a current mode of organizing; we refer back, implicitly or explicitly, to some of the most militant moments in American working-class history. People posting on the Occupy strike blog How I Strike have suggested that next week’s May Day is highly symbolic. As we think about and develop new ways of “general striking,” we also reconnect with a past we’ve mostly forgotten. So it makes sense that this year’s call for an Occupy general strike—whatever ends up happening on Tuesday—falls on May 1.

May Day is a beautifully American holiday, one created by American workers, crushed by the American government incubated abroad, and returned to the United States by immigrant workers. The history of May 1 as a workers’ holiday is intimately tied to the generations-long movement for the eight-hour day, to immigrant workers, to police brutality and repression of the labor movement, and to the long tradition of American anarchism. Perhaps the first nation-wide labor movement in the United States started in 1864, when workers began to agitate for an eight-hour day. This was, in their understanding, a natural outgrowth of the abolition of slavery; a limited work day allowed workers to spend more time with their families, to pursue education, and to enjoy leisure time. In other words, a shorter work day meant freedom.

It was not for nothing that in 1866, workers celebrated the Fourth of July by singing “John Brown’s Body” with new lyrics demanding an eight-hour day. Agitating for shorter hours became a broad-based mass movement, and skilled and unskilled workers organized together. The movement would allow no racial, national or even religious divisions. Workers built specific organizations—Eight Hour Leagues—but they also used that momentum to establish new unions and strengthen old ones. That year, the Eight Hour Movement gained its first legislative victory when Illinois passed a law limiting work hours.

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