! By RolandSheppard Retired Business Agent Painters Local # 4 San Francisco
I celebrate May Day, but I don’t celebrate Labor Day — I just observe it. To me, Labor Day means the codification of the labor bureaucracy’s subservience to the capitalist class. That was the original purpose for the United States capitalist class when it made labor day a holiday. It was organized as such in opposition to the Labor Day that was/is celebrated everywhere else in the world — a demonstration class solidarity, — May Day! May Day was celebrated, in memory of the martyrs of the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 Chicago and the unending struggle of the world working class for their “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
May Day History:
The History of the Shorter Workday, pp. 20-22 . . .
. . . May 1, 1886, became historic. On that day thousands of workers in the larger industrial cities poured into the streets, demanding eight hours. About 340,000 took part in demonstrations in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other places. Of these nearly 200,000 actually went out on strike. About 42,000 won the eight-hour day. Another 150,000 got a shorter day than they had had before. Chicago workers supported the movement most vigorously. To combat labor organization and activity, Chicago employers organized and acted. Pinkerton detectives and special deputies were in evidence. Policemen were swinging billies and breading up knots of workers on street corners. At the factory gates of McCormick Harvester Co., where a strike meeting was being held on May 3, policemen swung their clubs and then fired into the running strikers….The speaker at the meeting was August Spies, a member of the Central Labor Union, which had supported the May First strike. He was also a member of a militant labor group that was at the time influential in the Chicago Labor movement. Six workers were killed that day and many wounded. Anger ran high through the Chicago labor movement. About 3,000 attended a protest meeting the next day at Haymarket Square….The Chicago press reported the speeches were less “inflammatory” than usual. Mayor Carter H. Harrison who was present testified later that the meeting was “peaceable.” But as it was about to adjourn, policement swooped down and ordered the audience to disperse. Then some unknown person threw a bomb. It exploded, killing a police sergeant and knocking several core to the ground. The police opened fire. At the end of the day, seven policemen and four workers lay dead. At once several Chicago labor leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail. Eight of these finally came to trial–Albert Parsons, August Spies, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fieldon, Adolph Fischer and Oscar Neebe. The presiding judge helped pick the jury which was strongly anti-labor and hostile to the defendants. The trial lasted 63 days. All of the men were declared guilty of murder. All were given death sentences, except Neebe who got a 15-year prison sentence. A nationwide defense campaign won wide popular favor…At the last moment, as a result of widespread protests, the Governor of Illinois communted to life imprisonment the sentences of Fieldon and Schwab. It was reported that Lingg “committed suicide” in his cell. On November 11, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged. On the gallows Spies cried, “There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” Straightway the defense movement, now led by Albert Parsons’ widow, Lucy Parsons, turned to efforts to have the remaining three men freed. Fieldon, Schwab and Neebe were finally pardoned by Governor Altgeld in 1893. He was fully convinced, he said, of the innocence of all the eight men. Out of the eight-hour struggle which culminated in the strike of May 1, 1886, and its aftermath, the Haymarket tragedy, came international May Day. In Paris, France, on July 14, 1889, leaders from organized proletarian movements in many countries came together to form once more an international association of workers….At the first congress of the Second International, delegates listened to the story related by the United States representatives, considered a request from the American Federation of Labor for support of their eight-hour fight, and voted to make May 1, 1890, a day for an international eight-hour day demonstration. Demand for the eight-hour day became the main slogan of the international May Day celebrations. At a later congress, the International extended the purpose of the day to include wider labor demands and world peace. . . .
Reinstein, Boris, International May Day and American Labor Day, ppgs. 10-11
May Day was thus created by the workingmen themselves, in defiance of the capitalist class and its governments, and up to the present time the working people in many countries are compelled on the First of May to fight for their holiday at the sacrifice of their jobs, liberty, blood, and even life. When the police and cossacks of different countries appear on the scene on May Day it is always for the purpose of clubbing, maiming, arresting, and killing working people; for the police and cossacks recognize that May Day is the drilling day for the Social Revolution. The American Labor Day, on the contrary, was a “gift” which the workers received from their masters, the capitalists, through the capitalist politicians. That first Monday in the month of September was made a legal holiday under the name of Labor Day, at first by the legislature of one state some thirty years ago; the politicians of other states followed the clever example, so that at present Labor Day is a legal holiday all over the country. A vampire, when he settles down upon the body of a sleeping person and sucks its blood, is known to fan his victim with his wings, to soothe the victim’s pain, and to prevent him from waking up and driving the vampire away. So was the Labor Day created by the political agents of thc American capitalists to fan the sleeping giant, the American working class, while the capitalists are sucking its blood. American Labor Day can also be considered as a modern, capitalist version of the ancient custom of the days of serfdom and slavery. In those days the mastens, for recreation and amusement, often-times set aside one day to celebrate the “enthronment of slaves.” They would take a slave, take the chains off his limbs, put him on a mock throne, put a mock crown on his head and, bowing to him in mock humility and obedience, would humbly serve him and overwhelm him with flattery. And the Silly Fool on the mock throne would throw out his chest and swell with pride. But the day of mockery over, the chains were again clapped on his limbs, and the miserable slave, groaning, would resume his life of a beast of burden. Likewise with the unawakened American workman on Labor Day. On that day the chains of wage-slavery are, figuratively speaking, taken off his limbs; he is made the hero of the day; his masters, the capitalists, stand before him in mock humility; their spokesmen in the press, pul. pit and on their political platforms, overwhelm him with flattery; and the modern Silly Fool, likewise, throws out his chest and swells with pride. But, the day of mockery and of the Fool’s Paradise over, the masters, — who during this day are only slyly smiling-break out info sardonic laughter-though unheard by the slave — clap the chains back on his limbs and he again hears only the crack of the whip of Hunger and Slavery. . . .
Out of the eight-hour struggle which culminated in the strike of May 1, 1886, and its aftermath, the Haymarket tragedy, came international May Day. In Paris, France, on July 14, 1889, leaders from organized proletarian movements in many countries came together to form once more an international association of workers….At the first congress of the Second International, delegates listened to the story related by the United States representatives, considered a request from the American Federation of Labor for support of their eight-hour fight, and voted to make May 1, 1890, a day for an international eight-hour day demonstration.
Demand for the eight-hour day became the main slogan of the international May Day celebrations. At a later congress, the International extended the purpose of the day to include wider labor demands and world peace.
A worldwide demonstration, as Rosa Luxemburg stated: “May Day is the autonomous, immediate stepping forward of the proletarian masses, the political mass action of the millions of workers who otherwise are atomized by the barriers of the state in the day-to-day parliamentary affairs, who mostly can give expression to their own will only through the ballot, through the election of their representatives. The excellent proposal of the Frenchman Lavigne at the Paris Congress of the International added to this parliamentary, indirect manifestation of the will of the proletariat a direct, international mass manifestation: the strike as a demonstration and means of struggle for the eight-hour day, world peace, and socialism.
Eugene V. Debs: Labor Day Greeting 1909 (Brought up to date)
The working people are the only people in whose presence I take off my hat. As I salute them, I honor myself.
The working people—and this is the day to write them in capital letters — has given me what I have, made me what I am, and will make me what I hope to be; and I thank them for all, and above all for giving me eyes to see, a heart to feel and a voice to speak for the working people.
Like the rough hewn stone from which the noble statue is chiseled by the hand of a sculptor, the Toiler is the rough—hewn bulk from which the perfect Human are being chiseled by the hand of Nature.
All the working people of the earth are necessary to the whole Working People — and they alone will survive of all the human race.
Labor Day is a good day to rest the hands and give the brain a chance— to think about what has been, and is, and is yet to be.
The way has been long and weary and full of pain, and many have fallen by the wayside, but the Unconquerable Army of Labor is still on the march and as it rests on its arms today and casts a look ahead, it beholds upon the horizon the first glowing rays of the Social Sunrise.
Courage, comrades! The struggle must be won, for Peace will only come when she comes hand in hand with Freedom.
The right is with the labor movement and the gods of battle are with the Working Class.
The Socialist Party and the Trade Union Movement must be one today in celebration of Labor Day and pledge each other their mutual fidelity and support in every battle, eco-nomic and political, until the field is won and the Working People is free. Forget not the past on Labor Day! Think of Homestead! Think of Latimer! Think of Buffalo! Think of Coeur d’Alene! Think of Croton Dam! Think of Chicago! Think of Virden! Think of Pana! Think of Leadville! Think of Cripple Creek! Think of Victor! Think of Telluride!
These are some of the bloody battles fought in the past in the war of the Workers for Industrial Freedom and Social Justice.
How many and how fierce and bloody shall be the battles of the future?
Comrades, this is the day for Working people to think of the Class Struggle and the Ballot—the day for Labor to clasp the hand of Labor and girdle the globe with the International Revolutionary Solidarity of the Working Class.
We are all one of — all workers of all lands and climes. We know not color, nor creed, nor sex in the Labor Movement. We know only that our hearts throb with the same proletarian stroke, that we are keeping step with our class in the march to the goal and that the solidarity of Labor will vanquish slavery and Humanize the World!
As a leader of the labor movement, Eugene Debs opposed Woodrow Wilson as the Socialist Party candidate in the 1912 Presidential Election. Later, he would continue to rally against President Wilson and his decision to take America into war — and be jailed for it under the Espionage Act. (He ran for President from Prison)
In 2009, in my city of San Francisco, The San Francisco Labor Council, hosted a $100 a plate breakfast for Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is an example of how far the labor bureaucracy has traveled in its quest for dues and a their higher standard of living. (By the price of the ‘breakfast’ one knew that the breakfast was not intended for rank and file workers.) This event and other ‘labor day events’ with politicians, are a codification of the labor’s bureaucratic cast’s open declaration of a partnership with capitalism and its role as an enforcer for capital against labor. This ‘partnership’ is politically expressed by the cast’s subservience to the Democratic Party.
The labor bureaucracy has no conception of ‘labors’ unending conflict with capital, but the bureaucracy does have an unending quest for union dues. (This policy has gotten so bad, that “my” International Union President, of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT.com), has sent out a DVD to every member, at considerable expense, to inform my brothers and sisters, by their own admission, that the union will sound and act like a boss! Union Painters who may be late to work, abuse coffee break, take too much time for lunch, or (God Forbid!) leave work early, will face the wrath, not of the boss but of the Union’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out Policy”! If you are caught three times in violation of these rules, then these painters are not only out of a job but out of the union!) Today, these bureaucrats have nothing to say about the bailouts to the banks, and also nothing to say about the theft of workers’ pensions and life savings as part of their partnership they have even led the way to cut workers’ wages! That is why I observe Labor Day but celebrate May Day. For more information, read my essay, The Fall of the Trade Union Movement.