Labor Day 2012
The Albuquerque city web site lists two events for today, a guided tour of the "bosque," the beautiful forest of huge, old growth cottonwood trees that covers the flood plain along the Rio Grande River, and an outdoor yoga lesson.
|Haymarket - Harper's Magazine|
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On the two Facebook pages of Albuquerque's divided-at-birth Occupy movement, Occupy Albuquerque and (un)Occupy Albuquerque, there is nothing about Labor Day. Posts at the two sites have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks. They are mainly re-posts of things people did elsewhere, like the Code Pink actions inside the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., or notices of meetings of previously existing groups, like the one announcing who will be speaking before a New Mexico anti nuclear group. In other words, the local Occupy movement is dissolving back into the various, fractured groups that represented activism before Occupy. The many people who were inspired by it to become active are presumably back doing what they did before.
Labor Day began as International Worker's Day, as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre, when on May 4, 1886, Chicago policemen murdered about two dozen (the precise number is not known) peaceful labor union members who were on strike seeking an eight hour work day.
Labor struggles, then, were largely initiated by workers affiliated with either Socialist or Anarchist groups, which themselves consisted largely of recent immigrants to the US from Europe. (Anarchist is used here not as the term is widely understood today, i.e. as a kind of lawless, "helter skelter" activity, but to denote the legitimate political philosophy of Anarchism, which has a long history. In short, Anarchism has the same end goal as Socialism, worker control of the economy, but it would bypasses the stage of worker control of government and instead govern through small, democratically run, locally controlled entities, either community groups or unions.)
When Haymarket occurred, the struggle for the eight hour day was a focal point for labor activity. Wages were pathetic, but the Capitalists of the day, working with government, had had some success in fracturing the labor movement, pitting worker against worker and locking out or outright firing workers who complained.
But the eight hour day was something almost everyone agreed on. Working conditions were deplorable, with workers sometimes being forced to sleep beside their machines or be fired. Workers were forced to work overtime and on Saturdays and Sundays or be fired.
May 1 had been the target date to achieve the eight hour day. When the massacre occurred, May 4, there were actions and strikes taking place all over Chicago, and in cities around the country, in support of the eight hour day. After the massacre, workers organizations, and Socialists and Anarchists, around the world joined in the commemoration of Haymarket. May 1, or May Day, eventually became a holiday in 80 countries.
Although 30 US states had already instituted holidays in recognition of labor, it only became a national holiday in 1894, when President Grover Cleveland proposed it as a fig leaf to end a bitter strike at the Pullman rail car yards in Chicago. But at his urging, congress set the date as the first Monay in September, the date on which a few conservative, anti socialist unions had been holding their labor celebrations, so as not to stress the holiday's historic ties to Socialism and Anarchism.
In the rest of the world, Labor Day is still celebrated on May 1.
Labor Movement 2012
The Labor Movement in the US, always weaker than its counterparts in Europe and Latin America, is on its knees, representing barely one in ten workers, down from a high of more than one in three in the 1960s, as it struggles to hold on to the few perks it has left among those the Haymarket martyrs and countless, nameless, and almost forgotten others fought and died to obtain.
And it's not only the Labor Movement that faces a grim present and a bleak future, but working people in general. The trends that now see corporate profits at record highs, and wages and living standards on their way down, continue with no end in sight.
Without the complicity of Democrats, the current state of affairs would not have been possible, and in the current political dynamics, Democrat versus Republican, where, helped by a complicit, corporation-owned media, all other voices and parties are frozen out, the current trends and the reason for them are never mentioned. That is because Neoliberalism, or trickle down, the massive redistribution of wealth upward, first put forth as the road to prosperity by Neoliberalism's smiling salesman Ronald Reagan, has been ascribed to by every Democratic president, including Barak Obama, and by majorities of Democratic legislators, including New Mexico's.
One of the ways Haymarket is remembered in some places is by the lighting of bonfires at dawn, as if to remember the flame that burns somewhere inside of all people, and that now and then ignites, spontaneously, causing people to rise up and fight back.
One sees hopeful signs here and there. Occupy raised the consciousness of millions of Americans and in significant ways changed the dynamics of US politics. More and more people understand that there has been a tremendous redistribution of wealth upward, their wealth.
Nothing structurally has changed. Corporations maintain their power, politicians serve the interests of corporations and of the rich, and no one has stumbled upon a way out of that situation, but one sees hopeful signs. One always sees them. Someone is always resisting, somewhere and in some way.
The flame, the impetus to resist, is simply an aspect of human nature, a manifestation of the will to survive combined with the very human desire to avoid pain. It doesn't matter if the Haymarket martyrs are written out of the official histories. It doesn't matter if no one remember them at all. The flame, being an inherent part of human nature, will never die out, entirely.
But as another International Workers Day goes by unnoticed and unrecognized, as another May Day passes in September, here in Albuquerque, and in most of the US and around the world, the flame is barely burning.