By LISA LUINENBURG
International Workers’ Day, May 1, commemorates the anniversary of the Haymarket riots in Chicago. When workers struck for an eight-hour day in 1886, an unknown person (likely a police provocateur) threw a bomb into the peaceful crowd, killing several people and provoking a riot. Over 100 years later, with austerity measures and attacks on workers on the rise around the globe, the significance and impact of May 1becomes even more relevant.
This year, thousands of workers demonstrated in the streets around the world. Unions in Greece called a strike, bringing ferry and train services to a halt while people demonstrated peacefully in Athens. In Istanbul, Turkey, clashes occurred when police tried to stop protesters from demonstrating in Taksim Square. In France protesters demonstrated against President Francois Hollande and his government’s fiscal plans, calling him “the president of the rich.”
Over 100,000 people poured into the streets in Spain, demonstrating against austerity and an unemployment rate that has reached 27%, while another 400,000 marched in Germany. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, workers protested the deaths of hundreds of garment workers when a factory recently collapsed. One worker shouted from the back of a truck, “My brother has died. My sister has died. Their blood will not be valueless.”
Tens of thousands of workers in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Taiwan demanded higher pay and better working conditions, and protested pension cuts. In Mexico, public school teachers peacefully marched in Mexico City and Chilpancingo, hoping to blocking education reforms that would hurt unions. Tens of thousands marched in Havana, Cuba, in a demonstration dedicated to Huho Chavez.
Here in the United States, the majority of the May 1 marches called for the passage of a new immigration reform that would benefit the some 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. With a new bill now being discussed in the Senate, thousands of immigrants marched in the streets on May 1in cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Salem, Oregon, with numbers slightly up from last year. Smaller-scale marches were also held in cities such as Minneapolis and San Francisco.
However, despite a strong sentiment for a general legalization within the immigrant community, many of the marches were organized by reformist forces that support the Senate Gang of Eight’s draconian proposal for immigration reform. The White House-approved immigration reform bill proposes an overhaul of the current immigration system that includes plans for a beefed-up border patrol, an expanded guest worker system, and a long and arduous “pathway” to citizenship (lasting 13 years and costing each immigrant thousands of dollars). Even major unions such as the SEIU and the AFL-CIO are supporting the bill.
Many of the May Day marches this year featured politicians supporting the immigration reform bill instead of local organizers as speakers, and focused on local campaigns like driver’s license bills, instead of calling for unconditional legalization for all. This sucked much of the potential power out of the immigrant rights movement and instead diverted attention onto weak reforms.
Despite the watered-down nature of many of the May Day marches in the United States this year, we must not lose sight of the potential of the working class to fight back. The immigrant community has proven in the past that they have the ability to turn hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets at a moment’s notice when they are threatened by a draconian legislation and discriminatory laws.
And the impressive turnout from workers in countries around the world this year on May 1 shows that the working class is not defeated by any means. Although we have a long struggle ahead of us, the fight is just beginning.
Photo: Workers in the Dominican Republic march on May 1, 2013. By Tony Savino / Socialist Action