All Out For May Day!

by Scott McLemee on April 30, 2008

The first time I tried to celebrate May Day was by waving a black flag at Wills Point High School (about fifty miles east of Dallas, Texas) in 1981. None of the other students had any idea what that was about, and the teachers were probably just glad to know the Class of ‘81 would be gone soon, and my wierdo ass with it.

And for the next quarter century, celebrating May Day in the United States remained a pretty good sign that you were on the political margins. That started to change two years ago. Turnout was lower in 2007. But it’s a good sign when the website of the AFL-CIO’s Washington, DC Metro Council runs an announcement for tomorrow’s protests.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments elsewhere…

My digital penpal John V. Burke has been sending info about how the dockworkers are going to shut down all West Coast ports on Thursday to protest the war. Postal workers in New York and San Francisco have expressed support for them, and port truck drivers are calling for a day of protest against fuel prices.

This counts for a lot more than the reclaiming of the original Labor Day. (A holiday that began as commemoration of an event in American labor history, no less.) As John writes in a message he’s sent around to friends:

I well remember how indignant a lot of antiwar people were at US organized labor’s late, feeble, and sometimes dead wrong positions during the Vietnam War. Much of the then AFL-CIO leadership supported the war (though this support grew less vocal as the war dragged on under a Republican administration); so did a lot of union members, notably the building trades “hard hats” who waded into an antiwar rally in Manhattan in 1969. There were exceptions, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on the West Coast and, eventually, the United Auto Workers and a number of public employee unions; there was a labor coalition against the war, which formed a contingent at rallies, bought ads in the print media, and lent support to antiwar candidates.

What there wasn’t, though, was any use of labor’s economic strength—the strike weapon—to express opposition to the war, and that baffled and irritated some antiwar activists, especially those who didn’t know much about labor law or labor history. (I know this doesn’t apply to a lot of the recipients of this message; feel free to skip ahead if this is familiar material.) In particular, students from middle-class families weren’t aware that under the Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, the use of the strike weapon for any purpose except in disputes about collective bargaining agreements is explicitly prohibited…..In return, major corporate employers would recognize unions and accept contracts that included regular productivity and cost-of-living increases; there were occasional disruptions in this cozy arrangement, but strike activity fell sharply from the big upsurge in 1946-47 and stayed low until the “stagflation” and mass layoffs that began in the mid-70’s.

And now, thirty years later, even that is ancient history.

The Cold War is over, the steady-growth postwar economy is over, union density as a percentage of the workforce is down from 35% to 13% (and less in the once-powerful industrial sector), anti-labor policies have been entrenched at the NLRB for many years, and neither the Carter nor Clinton administrations achieved labor’s goal of legislative reform. (How hard did they try? Good question.)

In short, the deal that undergirded labor’s qualified support for the Vietnam War has fallen apart. The postwar social compact was a tradeoff; the other side went back on the bargain. It’s time for labor to begin reclaiming its full range of tactical options in support of a robust participation in political life, on an agenda of labor’s choosing without the artificial constraints imposed by Taft-Hartley. This will be, inevitably, a gradual process, and it may get ugly; I don’t think there are any US Attorneys dumb enough to try to indict the ILWU leadership, but I may be being too generous.

John—who was a railroad brakeman for fifteen years and a locomotive engineer for another thirteen, before retiring—says he’s going to be out tomorrow “with my United Transportation Union button on, prouder of the labor movement, my movement, than I’ve ever had a chance to feel in my life.” Me? I’m going to be on Capitol Hill, marching around in front of the Republican and Democratic National Committee offices, chanting bilingual slogans about solidarity. That sounds pretty good to me. Beats yelling at the television set.

{ 50 comments }

1

christian h. 04.30.08 at 7:25 pm

I’m going to be marching in Chicago, hopefully with red and black flags, and a huge crowd.

2

Jacob Christensen 04.30.08 at 8:23 pm

You want red flags? Here goes!

The Reds on this side of the Atlantic have 7 minutes to win.

3

christian h. 04.30.08 at 9:03 pm

CL semifinals? Yawn. It’s like Yankees – Red Sox all the time.

4

abb1 04.30.08 at 9:59 pm

Here it’s the Ascension Day holiday tomorrow. Public holiday, no work. There must a decent joke here somewhere.

5

P O'Neill 04.30.08 at 10:17 pm

6

Keith 04.30.08 at 10:35 pm

Unfortunately, May 1st is The National Day of Prayer, according to the Bush Administration. Fuckers know how to spoil a good thing, that’s for damn sure.

A holiday about activism and social reform? Not anymore! now it’s a day to commemorate the absolute, literal least you could possibly do to change anyone’s situation, anywhere.

7

Nix 04.30.08 at 11:52 pm

Me? I’m going to be celebrating my birthday by eating a lot and seeing Lear at the Globe (but perhaps not in that order). Actually *working* on May 1 is anathema to me. (National Day of Prayer?! The workers unite and throw Bush out — actually, I guess that’s going to happen anyway come November.)

8

Dan Simon 05.01.08 at 12:59 am

I dunno, Scott–I hear that a lot of those union laborers are too busy clinging bitterly to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant bigotry these days to bother marching in solidarity with you and your comrades. (Nobody ever said it’d be easy joining the elite vanguard of the class-consciously enlightened, you know.) But good luck anyway…

9

novakant 05.01.08 at 1:01 am

If you want to throw some stones and burn a few cars there’s always Kreuzberg ;).

10

abb1 05.01.08 at 7:17 am

union laborers are too busy clinging bitterly to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant bigotry

Union laborers? I thought that was said about the ‘small town folk’ – petit bourgeoisie. Sure, that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do.

11

Katherine 05.01.08 at 9:52 am

Alas, May 1 protests in the UK have taken a blow to their reputation by a combination of (a) a small number of quite violent anarchists hogging the headlines and (b) tabloids and other media using a small number of quite violent anarchists to hog the headlines because that makes a better story.

What you have tended to see the last couple of years here in London is pictures of overwhelming police force used against the mostly peaceful marchers. Is getting a bit better since the big London anti-war march before the invasion of Iraq, which seemed to redeem the idea of marching/protesting in many people’s eyes.

12

freshlysqueezedcynic 05.01.08 at 10:16 am

I dunno, Scott—I hear that a lot of those union laborers are too busy clinging bitterly to their guns, religion and anti-immigrant bigotry these days to bother marching in solidarity with you and your comrades. (Nobody ever said it’d be easy joining the elite vanguard of the class-consciously enlightened, you know.) But good luck anyway…

You know, Dan, to be objective here, you really are a bit of a dick.

13

Dave 05.01.08 at 10:40 am

Is there any conceivable usage of the term “petty bourgeoisie” in which the reader is not supposed to understand the writer to mean “scum”?

Since there is not, in the contemporary West, a substantial class of “true proletarians”, both propertyless and engaged in mass industry, and also “conscious” of a so-called class identity, such arbitrary labelling of sections of the less-well-off as “petty bourgeois” seems to me to be mere hand-waving dismissal of “workers” who think the “wrong” way. Can anyone argue otherwise?

14

abb1 05.01.08 at 11:14 am

Is there any conceivable usage of the term “petty bourgeoisie” in which the reader is not supposed to understand the writer to mean “scum”?

Hey, take it easy, mister. I’m a petty bourgeois.

15

Scott McLemee 05.01.08 at 11:30 am

Blinded, perhaps, by what he supposes to be the brilliance of his own sarcasm, Dan seems not to notice who is calling for the protests mentioned in this post: dockworkers, truck drivers, postal workers….

16

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 11:46 am

Scott, those people are called ‘distribution service professionals’, and are of course firmly middle-class. If they have pension funds, they might even belong to the oppressing owner class

17

minneapolitan 05.01.08 at 11:51 am

11: quite violent anarchists

katherine: How many people have UK anarchists killed in the last 10 years? Have they shot any Brazilian workers seven times in the head? And tell me, when are you going to mail Her Majesty’s government your cheque for the Community Charge?

Anarchists: The people who stand up to the government when everyone else has failed.

18

Dave 05.01.08 at 12:04 pm

@14: why? By what definition? Why do you think that definition is meaningful, and not just a dated piece of C19 abuse?

@17: such anarchists are all very well as street-theatre, but since the outcome of an anarchist revolution would be a situation where communities and individuals had to take actual responsibility for creating the conditions of material life for themselves and their families, the fact remains that the last people I or any other sane person would want engaged in that process are the kind of folk who think dressing in black and throwing shit at policemen is a meaningful act of liberation. Frankly, the people who call themselves ‘anarchists’ give anarchism a bad name.

And BTW, the Poll Tax didn’t disappear because of the riots, but because the core voter in Tory marginals didn’t like it. Polls beat the Poll Tax. Thatch took the Brixtton riots on the chin, then she f*cked the miners, you don’t think she could have f*cked that shower of ‘webels’ if they were as isolated politically as Scargill was? Dream on.

19

minneapolitan 05.01.08 at 12:18 pm

18: So you feel more comfortable placing your trust in the agents of capital and the state? Capitalist, communist, socialist and fascist — the states of the twentieth century murdered ~100 million people. How many have they murdered in the last 7 years? Hundreds of thousands at least, with no end in sight.

This is MAY DAY for chrissakes, when, among other things, we commemorate the judicial murder of four anarchists who were fighting to ease the suffering of their fellow workers. If anarchism hasn’t produced the perfect revolution yet, do you think it might have something to do with the relentless campaign of murders, tortures, imprisonments and harassment that the bosses have been waging against us this last century and a half? And here you are, content with your middle-class lot, eager to sell-out your potential companeros for the chance to call putting a turf mohawk on a militarist’s statue “violence” and chuckle all the way to the bank. It’s not the anarchists who are deluded, Mister Man, it’s the people like you who cling to the false promises of the very people who are already oppressing you.

20

abb1 05.01.08 at 12:19 pm

By what definition?

Well, even though I am basically a wage slave, I am also a well-paid professional, my parents professionals too. That is not proletarian, I’m afraid. I hope.

21

Dave 05.01.08 at 12:38 pm

@19: in what way, then, does that not put you in the bildungsburgertum, then, if we are to bandy outdated classifications?

22

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 12:54 pm

Dave, are you sure those concepts are outdated? Bildingdburgertum sounds like an excellent description for well-paid professionals who are the children of well-paid professionals.

I would have no trouble pointing out Kleinburger and Grossburger either

23

abb1 05.01.08 at 12:56 pm

Is it, like, the ‘intelligentzia’? That’s how my parents think of themselves, I think.

24

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 1:06 pm

Yes, Bilding means something like ‘developing’ or ‘cultivating’, as in developing oneself. So intelligentsia ( with an s) is pretty much the same. But intelligentzia with a z might have a more strictly Russian connotation that differs from the German original. I don’t know.

25

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 1:06 pm

Bildung, that is.

26

abb1 05.01.08 at 1:09 pm

Yeah, good old days: you went to a college – you’re an intellectual.

27

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 1:26 pm

I am not an expert on either the American or the German system, but I had the impression that a “research university” is the American equivalent of the 19th century Universitat that produced Bildungsburger, while colleges are more English-inspired.

Presumably people who have advanced degrees (that’s what you guys call them, isn’t it?) from a research university are still intellectuals in a wider sense of the word?

28

Daniel 05.01.08 at 1:59 pm

since the outcome of an anarchist revolution would be a situation where communities and individuals had to take actual responsibility for creating the conditions of material life for themselves and their families, the fact remains that the last people I or any other sane person would want engaged in that process are the kind of folk who think dressing in black and throwing shit at policemen is a meaningful act of liberation

blah blah Boston Tea Party blah.

29

abb1 05.01.08 at 2:11 pm

..communities and individuals had to take actual responsibility…

Hey, first destroy, then build.

…But it is not enough to destroy. We must also know how to build, and it is owing to not having thought about it that the masses have always been led astray in all their revolutions. After having demolished they abandoned the care of reconstruction to the middle-class people who possessed a more or less precise conception of what they wished to realize, and who consequently reconstituted authority to their own advantage.

That is why anarchism, when it works to destroy authority in all its aspects, when it demands the abrogation of laws and the abolition of the mechanism that serves to impose them, when it refuses all hierarchical organization and preaches free agreement, at the same time strives to maintain and enlarge the precious kernel of social customs without which no human or animal society can exist. Only instead of demanding that those social customs should be maintained through the authority of a few, it demands it from the continued action of all.

30

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 2:11 pm

Daniel, those were decent people dressing in black etc.

31

engels 05.01.08 at 2:45 pm

Dave, oh dear, aren’t we the negative ninnies?

32

Katherine 05.01.08 at 3:09 pm

katherine: How many people have UK anarchists killed in the last 10 years? Have they shot any Brazilian workers seven times in the head? And tell me, when are you going to mail Her Majesty’s government your cheque for the Community Charge?

Um, you misunderstand me. I was not meaning to have a go at UK anarchists in the least. I entirely agree that they have not shot or killed people. My point was just that a tiny core of people calling themselves anarchists threw some bricks at MacDonalds and this allowed the tabloids to paint the MayDay protests as the protests of extremists. The police took advantage of this perception to do the whole “show of power” thing. This I consider to be a Bad Thing.

33

Dave 05.01.08 at 3:11 pm

No, I’m an actual anarchist who knows that living in squalor, smoking too much dope, and planning the next ‘outrage’ will always leave so-called ‘anarchists’ as utterly marginalised, scorned and ridiculed puppets of repressive toleration, able to be called upon as needed to epater les bourgeois and serve as the inspiration for further limitations on the freedom of others.

abb1 your quote is very nice, but it isn’t what happens when ‘anarchists’ get together, they just celebrate their freedom to get stoned. And that’s the problem, ‘anarchists’ have buried the very essence of self-organisation, and replaced it with self-disorganisation.

BTW the Boston Tea Party analogy is just stupid – were those people beholden to an ideological view that the only thing that mattered was chucking stuff in harbours. I think not. Distinguish, as an exercise, between direct action as an element of a widely-supported resistance strategy against a distant colonial power, and groups with absolutely no traction within the prevalent political culture engaging in acts of spectacular, and spectacularly ineffective, token confrontation.

34

abb1 05.01.08 at 3:18 pm

I know, I know. The theory and the real-life experience.

35

Great Zamfir 05.01.08 at 3:38 pm

So, everyone agrees. Anarchists should stop smoking pot, stop throwing rocks, and start thinking about the future. I am sure their parents agree.

Now, tell me: why should a decent bourgeois teenager still want to become an anarchist?

36

Jacob Christensen 05.01.08 at 4:35 pm

I’ll just note that my local Co-op supermarket was open for business today. Great – I was out of toothpaste.

37

abb1 05.01.08 at 4:47 pm

Toothpaste is such a bourgeois concept, dude.

38

Jacob Christensen 05.01.08 at 5:09 pm

@abb1: Speaking of which – Swedish TV celebrates May Day by screening…

…wait for it!…

… The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie! (drum-roll)

Time to get dressed for dinner.

39

virgil xenophon 05.01.08 at 6:14 pm

Jacob. White or black tie? I don’t want to be out
of step–especially on day like this–just a warm-up
for Derby Day and millionaires row at Churchill.

40

bernarda 05.02.08 at 12:05 pm

What makes some of you think that anarchists don’t think about the future? Kropotkin seemed to. The CNT during the Spanish Civil War thought about it.

http://tinyurl.com/5tss9d

The IWW in the U.S. certainly thought about it.

41

Great Zamfir 05.02.08 at 12:32 pm

They’re dead.

42

bernarda 05.02.08 at 12:41 pm

Like George Orwell, many Americans fought in the Spanish Civil in the International Brigades. For the Americans it was the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

San Francisco(of course)dedicated a monument to them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWmWEJKshbA

There is a documentary about them.

43

Michael Pugliese 05.02.08 at 3:16 pm

>…Turnout was even less impressive in the nation’s capital. About a
dozen people began protesting outside of the Republican national
headquarters Thursday afternoon and later moved to the Democratic
national headquarters.

Another 60 people gathered about noon by the U.S. Capitol’s Reflecting
Pool where, in the rain, some finished writing protest signs. A group
of American Indians joined the demons tration, saying they are often
mistaken for illegal immigrants.
Via
———- Forwarded message ———-
From:
Date: Fri, May 2, 2008 at 6:08 AM
Subject: [debsian] Protesters across America call for immigration reform
To: Debsian
>…Watch the CNN Videos at this link -

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/05/01/immigration.protests/index.html?iref=hpmostpop#
\cnnSTCVideo

—————————————————–

CNN.com

44

salient downs 05.02.08 at 6:40 pm

If anarchism hasn’t produced the perfect revolution yet, do you think it might have something to do with the relentless campaign of murders, tortures, imprisonments and harassment that the bosses have been waging against us this last century and a half?

No, I don’t. Let me be pre-emptive and say: in this statement, I’m not ‘condoning’ or ‘refusing to acknowledge’ those murders, tortures, imprisonments and/or incidents of harassment.

At its best, anarchy is to revolution/reform what household bleach is to dishwasher fluid: an inherently and indiscriminately destructive component, with the capacity to disinfect or to tarnish depending upon the circumstances under which it is employed, and with utility directly proportional to the severity of the task.

In its worst, anarchy is bestial anger with nihilistic veneer, fueling inconsequential confrontation rather than purposeful conflict.

Either way, I don’t think that anarchy unattended-to by Teh Man would result in any form of revolution, perfect or imperfect – a redistribution of power, perhaps, but not one that would be substantially more egalitarian.

45

salient downs 05.02.08 at 6:48 pm

Now, tell me: why should a decent bourgeois teenager still want to become an anarchist?

Because it justifies stealing clothes from Hot Topic.

46

abb1 05.02.08 at 7:07 pm

It’s just not the right time for anarchy yet. Evolution, experimentation, trial and error – this is how it happens. Anabaptim, Kibbutzim, Jura federation, Makhno, Catalonia; stay tuned.

47

peter ramus 05.03.08 at 4:00 am

In its worst, anarchy is bestial anger with nihilistic veneer, fueling inconsequential confrontation rather than purposeful conflict.
—some random internet opinion

<em.”I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
— Emma Goldman

48

peter ramus 05.03.08 at 4:01 am

In its worst, anarchy is bestial anger with nihilistic veneer, fueling inconsequential confrontation rather than purposeful conflict.
—some random internet opinion

“I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everyboy’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
— Emma Goldman

49

peter ramus 05.03.08 at 4:02 am

Unforseen preview syndrome. Sorry.

50

the Other Paul 05.05.08 at 4:38 am

Does this do it?

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