Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 29, 2007

All Out May Day!
A couple of years ago, such appeals to the masses in the USA were only issued by tiny left and anarchist groups–and largely fell on deaf ears. Last year we saw the biggest political demonstrations in U.S. history. But the May Day 2006 boycotts, marches and rallies, numbering in the millions, were not in response to strident left appeals and even trade union involvement was peripheral.

The mass base of this inspiring outpouring of humanity was immigrant workers, mostly not in unions. Churches and even radio DJs did more to promote turnout. Their goal was to assert pride and dignity in the face of attacks by bosses, boss politicians, and a growing current of ultra-right racism. They served notice that they are here to stay and will not meekly surrender to mean spirited opponents without a fight.

While most of these immigrants come from countries where Primero de Mayo is an official labor day holiday few know that this international event traces its origins to the United States. Of course, even fewer native born American workers are aware of May Day’s roots.

It all began May 1, 1886 with a call by union, socialist, and anarchist groups for mass demonstrations across the country in support of the eight-hour day. The biggest response was in Chicago--and it was dominated by immigrant workers–in those days mainly Germans, Slavs, Finns, and east European Jews. The May 1 action turned out to be the opening round in a series of strikes and demonstrations that encountered vicious police attacks, including unarmed worker fatalities. A big rally to protest police violence was called in Haymarket Square where somebody–unknown to this day–threw a bomb that killed several cops. The police then opened fire on demonstrators. Eight worker leaders were framed up on the bombing, four of them executed. The Haymarket Martyrs were later exonerated and pardoned by Governor Altgeld.

Solidarity with the workers of Chicago is what led to the institution of May Day as a global worker holiday. For decades May Day marches, rallies and picnics were common in the United States. But these became one of the casualties of the Cold War in the 1950s as, ironically, such events came to be identified with “foreign communism.” I thank my good friend Peter Rachleff, at Macalester College, for sending an e-mail link to a good brief summary of the history of May Day by Rudolph J. Vecoli, published in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus–a source I might otherwise have missed.

I am also grateful to Stuart Elliott at Kansas Workbeat in Wichita for passing along information about a rally this May Day, called by the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois Labor History Society, endorsed by the UE and several CtW unions--at Haymarket Square! Unfortunately, this official Chicago commemoration, designed to promote the Employee Free Choice Act, remains unique.

Another interesting local development was the passage of a resolution by the Dane County Board of Supervisors (Madison, Wisconsin), proclaiming, in English and Spanish, Recognizing May 1st as International Worker's Day. After reviewing the history of May Day, and lamenting the fact it is celebrated almost everywhere except this country, the unusual resolution concludes,

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Dane county Board of supervisors does hereby recognize May 1st as “International Workers’ Day” (El dia del trabajo) to recognize their right to work, their right to a living wage, their right to humane and safe working conditions and their right to be protected from abuse; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the Dane County Board of Supervisors encourages employers in Dane County to respect the rights to take part in the May 1st activities without a punitive resource.

But the main driving force behind May Day actions in the USA this year will once again be the fight for immigrant worker rights. The calculatingly heartless “Return to Sender” workplace raids by ICE; the reactionary immigration legislation in congress; along with an uncertain economy keeps this issue front and center. Every city and town will have major mobilizations of immigrant workers this Tuesday.

Even Kansas City will be involved. Immigrant rights supporters will assemble at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on Avenida Cesar Chavez (23rd Street, just west of Summit) at 4PM; at 5PM they will march to Washington Square Park (just across Main Street from Union Station) where a rally will take place.

Though for various reasons the 2007 May Day events may not be as huge as last year they promise to be significant. There will also be a greater labor presence. Many unions now recognize the potential for organizing immigrant workers in to otherwise declining unions..

There are some advanced sectors in the labor movement who go beyond this short term opportunism. For example, the Center for Labor Renewal has produced a thoughtful Statement On Worker Migration.

In Kansas City the Labor Party will be part of the May Day activities with our banner and an English/Spanish leaflet. (You can view an advance draft of the English version by clicking here.) If you’re in the KC area look for us at Washington Square Park. (The next KC Labor Party meeting will be this coming Saturday, May 5, 1 PM, at the North Kansas City Library.)

Labor integration into the struggle for immigrant worker rights is vital to the future of both movements. Bringing this solidarity together on May Day has the bonus of helping both to reclaim a proud part of our common heritage.

All Out May Day!

Tearing Down Walls
We appreciate Steve Early sending us an advance copy of an article to appear in the May issue of Labor Notes,
Tearing Down The Wall At UPS, Smithfield, and Verizon. As we’ve come to expect from Steve, it’s an insightful look at innovative ways to tackle the growing challenge of bosses playing off organized and unorganized sectors of employees doing overlapping work.

But We Just Came To Work Here...
Just in time for Worker’s Memorial Day, the AFL-CIO issued an updated report on workplace health and safety in America,
Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect. The lengthy document shows that in 2005–the last full year for which figures are available--16 workers were killed and more than 12,000 workers were injured or made ill on average each day. We’ve updated our Safety page on KC Labor–long overdue.

Binging In the Capital
This morning’s Washington Post reports,

“The Washington area is in the middle of a carbon dioxide binge, with emissions of this greenhouse gas from vehicles and electricity users having increased at more than twice the national rate between 2001 and 2005.”

Emissions just from these two sources have increased a whopping 13.4 percent over the four-year period in the see of power that has rejected even the Kyoto Accords. Congress has direct control over DC proper–and has refused to discuss their own personal coal-fired power plant.

The most “green” members of congress are pushing “carbon credit” schemes to go “carbon neutral.” But even the Financial Times felt obligated to expose these scams,

“A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

“Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway.

“Blue Source, a US offsetting company, invites consumers to offset carbon emissions by investing in enhanced oil recovery, which pumps carbon dioxide into depleted oil wells to bring up the remaining oil. However, Blue Source said that because of the high price of oil, this process was often profitable in itself, meaning operators were making extra revenues from selling ‘carbon credits’ for burying the carbon.”

Some Modest Steps In the Right Direction
US Labor Against the War has endorsed two upcoming antiwar actions–a May 23 demonstration at the Coast Guard graduation ceremony in New London, CT where Bush will be speaking, and a May 26 protest at West Point where Cheney will be speaking. This is a welcome change from fruitless lobbying of congress.

It’s also noteworthy because these two protests were called by ANSWER, a coalition that has had rough relations with USLAW in the past. A west coast leader of ANSWER remarked, “What happy news! I don't know if ANSWER is, officially, yet aware of this endorsement, but I know it will be greatly appreciated.”

In the face of a cynical congress that will do nothing effective to stop the war the antiwar movement needs to take our message back in to the streets–and do so in a unified effort. A few weeks ago we reported on an effort to promote unity around mass action in the antiwar movement through an open letter. If you agree with this perspective I urge you to sign on by sending a message to:

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
John Woodruff with the UE in Connecticut passed along this case study,

“Custodian Debby Hughes was walking down a hallway collecting trash on the morning of March 22 on the third floor of Crosley Residence Hall when a student ran out of the bathroom in a panic.

“The student told Hughes that freshman Rebekah Dudeck was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor, Hughes said.

“Hughes looked around the hallway for help and found the resident assistant, who then went to find the hall director, she said. Hughes pulled out her cell phone and called her supervisor and told her to call paramedics, she said.

“Although she helped an endangered student, Hughes said she received a written warning because she violated the policy that prohibits custodians from carrying cell phones while at work.”

I Owe You One
Last time I promised comments on the Imus Affair this week. Lied again. I just don’t have the time or space to do it justice. It will appear on the blog later.

That’s all for this week.

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