Rise Up and Out for May Day: Taking a Stand for Immigrants
Photo: Bay Resistance
In a year full of protests and demands for equality and justice, it’s fitting that the most recent opportunity to rise up should come on May Day, or, as it’s better known around the world: International Workers Day.
At the beginning, this day was part of a movement to stand for the working people, those whose lives were devalued in favor of manufacturing success. In the decades since, it has represented a stand for the working class, who were given lesser consideration due to their non-billionaire status. Now, May Day is the time to take a stand for yet another marginalized group of people: immigrants and migrant workers.
History of May 1 – International and Domestic
After the early nineteenth century shift from the agricultural to an industrial economy, conditions for factory workers were merciless at best. Unsafe machinery took a brutal toll on workers bodies, and a 10-16 hour workday was common. Starting in the 1860s, working people began to decry the circumstances, rising up to ask for a shorter workday–without a decrease in pay.
In 1884, the organization that would become the American Federation of Labor (AFL) declared at its national convention in Chicago that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The resistance had organized.
On May 1, 1886, headlines cried out, “One hundred thousand men striking for the eight hours,” and decades worth of effort culminated in a nationwide strike that left employers furious. For several days before and after, huge parades and mass meetings signaled something big was happening. 340,000 working people were involved in May 1 actions that year, 150,000 of whom won shorter hours without actually striking. Another 190,000 did go on strike, and 42,000 people improved their conditions. It wasn’t a complete victory. But it was a start.
On May 4, police raided an Anarchist meeting in Haymarket Square and ordered the crowd to disperse. Someone–whose identity was never uncovered–threw a bomb into their ranks, killing seven officers. This tragedy, which became known as the Haymarket affair, was immediately leveraged by the media and the oppressing businesses to villainize the workers who had gathered that day. The blame that was placed on the resisters lead to a faltering of support for the movement, halting the fight for an eight-hour workday for years. The marginalized community was criminalized, regardless of proof or lack thereof, and the incident was used to further derail their fights for fair treatment.
Still, the May Day movement, which was intended to be a one day demonstration, did live on. And when leaders of the socialist Second International were calling for an international day of protest to be held in the UK at the beginning of May in 1890, the AFL was already planning its own demonstration in the States on the same day, three years after the first protests.
2017: The Year of the Resistance
In his book, Eric Hobsbawm called International Workers Day “the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar.” Today, it is the wave of secular marches and protests that continue to strike at the ruling powers that be, with an aim not just to dent but to fold the majority rule’s machinations.
In 2012, the thriving protest group of the time Occupy Wall Street organized a General Strike on International Workers Day, working with unions and immigrant groups to take a stand: a “day without the 99 percent”. It was a resistance against the classist structure of the country, a movement that made an impact in its own right. For us today, we recognize it as having set a stronger foundation for the strikes and protests that must be the response to the current administration–to all three branches of the majority-ruled government.
This year’s May Day will ring with calls to rise up in defense of the immigrants, of this decade’s marginalized community, currently being criminalized, victimized, and exploited for political gains. The California Women’s March and the Bay Area Climate Mobilization are among the organizations gathering together for “massive marches and strikes this May Day,” representatives of people and causes that are also under attack by this administration.
Now the time comes again, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, to rise up.
“It’s time to fight the attacks on the freedom, dignity and human rights. It’s time to RESIST. It’s time to defend the humanity of each and every one of us,” comes the call from Bay Resistance.
How can you participate?
- Pledge your resistance
- Turn out to an upcoming action and make your voice heard
- Contribute your skills in whatever unique, personal way works for you
Calls to “Shut it down” come emblazoned on posters and graphics, using the powerful imagery of this generation’s revolution to bring the message to the masses. For “all of us” and for “our communities,” it’s time to “organize and defend the humanity of each and every one of us.”
Saturn Cafe, a proud sanctuary business, will be recognizing International Workers Day this year by closing the restaurant for the day, and allowing our employees the day to march and protest as they like.
The protests that have been amassed this year have set new standards for what it means to gather in solidarity and to stand against serious threats to our way of life. From the Women’s March of January, which set records for highest number of protest participants, to the Days Without an Immigrant–which showed just how much we rely on those who come to the US from around the world–groups from many different walks of life have felt their way of life threatened by what is happening politically, and been compelled to act on their ideals. It is the shared difference and similar experiences that best allow us to rise up together to Shut. It. Down.
Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle