Most Americans are familiar with Labor Day, but they may not have heard of the international day of worker solidarity known as May Day. At the height of the Cold War, May Day parades were associated with socialism, and in a quest to distance itself from the dirty deeds of the Soviet Union, Congress instead designated May 1 as “Loyalty Day.” Today, we celebrate workers’ struggles on Labor Day, the first Monday in September.
It’s unfortunate that many Americans lost the memory of May Day because in failing to celebrate the holiday, US workers are deprived of the spirit of solidarity they used to share with international workers. However, that doesn’t mean that May Day is completely forgotten within the United States.
The San Jose May 1 Coalition is hosting a march for immigration rights, while the protests of Governor Scott Walker continue in Wisconsin. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at Milwaukee’s May Day march today in one of more than 100 marches and rallies that will be held across the country.
The AFL-CIO is live-blogging May Day actions and also tweeting updates under the hashtag #MayDay. In a written statement, the union’s blog reads: “These rallies and marches will show workers’ rights and immigrant rights are connected.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founder and executive director of Voces de la Frontera, says that there is now “an unprecedented alliance” between labor and immigrant rights communities in the wake of Walker’s bill that eliminate bargaining rights for public workers. “We want to send a message to corporate America, politicians and others that working people will not be divided,” she says.
VDLF’s website features a video in Spanish advertising the Wisconsin solidarity May 1 march.
Sheila Cochran, secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and its chief operating officers tells the Journal Sentinel that instead of blaming immigrants for lack of employment opportunities, workers should hold their employers accountable for encouraging a race to the bottom in a frenzy to maximize profits. Cochran says it’s in labor’s interest to see comprehensive immigration reform so wages and working standards aren’t driven down further.
Internationally, May Day protests are garnering much attention. Eight people were arrested during a protest in Brighton, and massive marches occurred in Russia and Turkey. More than 3,000 blue-collar workers took to the streets of Taipei for their May Day protest over low incomes, long hours, and the widening wealth gap, and in Kuala Lumpur twenty protesters were arrested for failing to disperse from an “illegal assembly.”
Footage from the police crackdown in Brighton: