Are You ‘Spring Training’ For May Day?

May Day 2012

Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.

When the World’s Workers, sisters and brothers,
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life—not for others,
For the earth and its fulness is theirs.

—Walter Crane, The Workers’ Maypole (1894)

When you hear the term “spring training,” most of us think baseball, but, this year, it has a different context because the Occupy Movement has appropriated the term to describe educating and preparing activists for nationwide protests and a hoped for General Strike slated for May Day 2012, this May 1st.

The idea of “spring” may be more connected to the “Arab Spring,” a time of revolt than the season we’ve entered.

Can this relatively new movement pull off an ambitious General Strike to shut down a city like New York? In many ways, the success of this tactic requires alliances and coalitions that take far more time to build. Internal fears of “co-optation” may make it harder for Occupy to reach out to movements and political tendencies that are more reformist, although some labor unions are supportive.

Even if Occupy can’t fully “shut it down” this year, the actions will attract media attention and show that this movement is still going and growing. It will become one more building block for sustained direct action.

That is, if it doesn’t turn into the kind of mayhem that divided Occupy Oakland when violence followed its hoped for General Strike.

Throughout the history of May Day, there have been tensions between anarchists and socialists. In 1886,one group issued a “Workingmen to Arms” proclamation.  It said. In part,  “one pound of dynamite is better than a bushel of ballots.” Today, some members of the “blackbloc” appear to consider the trashing of a Starbucks as a revolutionary act, as if there is a link between lattes and liberation.

When you go back to the very first May Day Rally overseas, held on the 4th of May 1890, in Hyde Park in London, you can read the remarks by Eleanor Marx (yes, from that family!) reminding the huge crowd that their giant mobilization followed smaller ones in earlier years.

“I can remember,” she said. “when we came in handfuls of a few dozen to Hyde Park to demand an Eight Hours’ Bill, but the dozens have grown to hundreds, and the hundreds to thousands, until we have this magnificent demonstration that fills the park today. We are standing face to face with another demonstration, but I am glad to see that the great masses of the people are on our side.”

That protest had a specific focus in seeking the 8 hour day for workers, an economic justice issue. Specific demands are important if you want the public to understand why you are protesting, what your movement wants., and how you are not just out to promote yourselves.

Added Marx:

Those of us who have gone through all the worry of the Dock Strike, and especially the Gasworkers’ Strike, and have seen the men, women and children stand round us, have had enough of strikes, and we are determined to secure an eight hours’ day by legal enactment; unless we do so, it will be taken from us at the first opportunity. We will only have ourselves to blame if we do not achieve the victory which this great day could so easily give us.

Again the protest was projected as part of a process—not an event in itself, or for itself, but one more action in an ongoing struggle designed not for some apocalypse but to build the movement even stronger.

She concluded:

…we aim at a time when there will no longer be one class supporting two others, but the unemployed both at the top and at the bottom of society will be got rid of. This is not the end but only the beginning of the struggle; it is not enough to come here to demonstrate in favour of an eight hours’ day. We must not be like some Christians who sin for six days and go to church on the seventh, but we must speak for the cause daily, and make the men, and especially the women that we meet, come into the ranks to help us.

When we think of that event in London, all these years, later we may not be aware of workers and working people are under attack today—not just politically but economically.

Already, the price of gas in the US is expected to go up even more this May. The British press is reporting that there will be another development there on May 1st.

Read this:

Thousands of mortgage customers will see their monthly repayments rise as lenders increase their standard variable rates, leaving many borrowers locked into expensive deals.

Halifax’s SVR rise of 0.49% to 3.99% kicks in on 1 May, as do similar increases from Bank of Ireland, Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks — despite there being no change in the Bank of England base rate. In early April, the Co-operative Bank also said it would also increase its standard variable rate by 0.5% to 4.74% on 1 May.

Mortgage analysts claim at least a million borrowers will be affected by the rises, which have been blamed on changing conditions in the mortgage market and the increased cost of funding. Lending is funded from a combination of repayments from existing borrowers, savings deposits and, most importantly, buying in money from the money markets. It is the cost of the latter that ultimately determines the price of mortgages, and is leading.

So May Day has two faces. It is a day for revolt and for repression.

In America, the powers that be neutralized the symbolic importance of May Day, by substituting Labor Day in September, an occasion for barbecures, not barricades.

This happened perhaps because of workers groups and socialist movements had been rallying on May Day since Mayday 1886. Back then “more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history.”

The IWW noted:

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel.

As early as the 1860s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

So has been a long struggle with Occupy stepping into the breach and reviving May Day as a day of solidarity and momentum against rule by the 1 percent.

Let us remember Eleanor Marx’s final words on that exciting May Day so long ago:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.

Danny Schechter blogs at NewsDissector.net. His forthcoming new book of his essays is Blogothon from Cosimo Books. He hosts a radio show on Progressive RadioNetwork.com (PRN.fm). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

, , , , ,

  • Quote This

    This ‘general strike’ concept is a joke: none of the major labor unions in the America are supporting the strike because there’s no clear goal that’ll improve the lot of their workers (e.g., no one’s demanding better pay, safer workplace conditions, etc). The general strike is a glorified temper tantrum. So the strike will probably consist of a few humanities grads angry that their Cultural Studies degree doesn’t qualify them for anything other than stocking shelves at Wal Mart.

    I’ve had a few hundred dollars burning a hole in my pocket. And as a counter-action to the May Day ‘general strike’ I plan on a spending spree. Any business being picketed by stinky hippies and professional agitators will get some of my money.

    And regarding the Marx family, I’ll remind y’all of what economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 2006 book “On Classical Economics” (Yale University Press):

    >what did Marx contribute to economics? Contributions depend not only on what was offered but also on what was accepted, and there is no major premise, doctrine, or tool of analysis in economics today that derived from the writings of Karl Marx. There is no need to deny that Marx was in many ways a major historic figure of the nineteenth century, whose long shadow still falls across the world of the twenty-first century. Yet, jarring as the phrase may be, from the standpoint of the economics profession Marx was, as Professor Paul Samuelson called him, “a minor post-Ricardian.”

    :Sowell was a serious student of Marx in his youth, but is now a free-market supporter. Samuelson was a Keynsian. Thus, while Sowell and Samuelson would disagree on many important points, they agree that Marx is completely irrelevant to modern economics … Marx was just a blip after David Ricardo.

    • Andrew

      Multiple pseudonyms now, CerebralCaustic?  It must be hard being the One Man standing up against the absolute evil, existential threat that is Disinfo.com.

  • Glenn Beck Is God

    what happened to the “no chores” part of the logo?

    did Glenn Beck’s mockery of the “no chores” concept force AdBusters to change their strategy? 

    • JohnFrancisBittrich

      doubtful. nobody actually listens to what that blowhard says anymore.

21
More in Activism, Counterculture, History, Occupy Movement, OccupyWallStreet
From Kettles To Courtrooms: Authorities’ Backlash Against Protest

Via Red Pepper, Nina Power on the ominous crackdown on our right to protest: For every uprising, protest and political action there is an unequal and oppressive reaction. 2011 may...

Close