Thursday, March 17, 2005

May Day Parade to be Led by Bernie Sanders

AMERICA’S only socialist congressman is to lead this year’s May Day parade through Edinburgh, Scotland.

Bernie Sanders, who sits for the state of Vermont in the US House of Representatives, is one of his country’s most outspoken critics of the war in Iraq. And he has led opposition to a spate of corporate scandals rocking America.

Congressman Sanders says he champions "the cause of ordinary hard working American families". More on this story here.

On May 1 the world working class and labour unions display their strength in demonstrations and strikes. May Day "International Workers' Day" is a reminder to the ruling classes that the days of Capital are numbered.

May Day was born from the struggle for the eight-hour work day, and is recognized around the world as a working class holiday, a day of solidarity between workers of all nationalities; a celebration universally feared and resented by the captains of finance and industry.

The seeds were planted in 1791 in Philadelphia where the carpenters first struck for a ten-hour work day. By the 1830s the ten-hour day became a general demand with workers struggling against 12+ hour days.

The American Civil War eliminated slavery in the United States and gave momentum to labour agitating for fair working hours. Marx noted that "out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first real fruit of the Civil War was the eight-hours' agitation, that ran with the seven- leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California."

By 1872 Six years later, in 1872, a hundred thousand workers led by the Knights of Labor in New York City struck and won the eight-hour day, mostly for building trades workers. It was in this rising ferment for the eight-hour day that May Day was born.

The catalyst was The Haymarket incident in Chicago, where hundreds of police clashed with IWPA demonstrators over several days, resulting in deaths on both sides. The anarchist leaders if the IWPA were treated to a show trial and, lacking evidence, where murdered by the state for their beliefs. All were posthumously pardoned.

The AFL (American Federation of Labor) convention in 1888 announced that May 1, 1890, would be a day when labor would enforce the eight-hour day with strikes and demonstrations. Ironically, in 1905 after decades of rightward drift, the AFL had disavowed May Day altogether, celebrating instead Labor Day on the first Monday of September, a celebration sanctioned by the US federal government in 1894 (see Mar 4, How Labor Won Its Day).

Summarized from various sources including Liberation & Marxism, issue no. 27, 1996. L&M, 55 W. 17 St., 5th Fl., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: l& Web:

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