The revolutionary message of May Day: For a New World

The First of May is the date we remember Anarchists murdered by the State in Chicago. 137 years ago, these Anarchists, influential in the workers movement, helped lead a movement for the 8 hour day, in preparation for social revolution.

 A date of May 1st 1886 was set by the workers movement in the USA on which workers create the eight hour day.  Half a million demonstrated throughout the States. In Chicago, a violent clash between police and demonstrators, led to repression and eight prominent Anarchists and labour organisers were arrested and prosecuted, in a campaign aimed at crushing the strike movement.

Despite scant evidence, with many of those on trial not even present at the incident, seven were sentenced to death and one to 15 years in prison. The state prosecutor told the jury: : “Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. There are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society.”  Two death sentences were commuted to life, and four Anarchists were hanged on November 11th 1887, another cheating the executioner by committing suicide. Years later in 1897, those remaining in prison were pardoned by the governor of the State of Illinois, who criticised the flimsy evidence offered at the trial.

Since then, May Day has been a day to remember those who fought and died for the working class.

However, May 1st has become a mere ritual. Under the former Communist governments in the Soviet Union and its satellites, it was used as a display of military might, whilst in the rest of the world, it became a token ritual organised by the trade union bureaucrats and the social-democratic parties. Boring and meaningless speeches are delivered by these self-same union bureaucrats and politicians. It is forgotten that once May 1st was a call for international mass action by the working class.

The working class has continued to struggle and has wrested some gains from the State and Capital. However, despite these collective efforts, our small and hard-won gains are now under continuing attack. Precarious and low paid work, attacks on pay and conditions, not to mention other attacks on the social wage like pensions and unemployment benefits, are the new norm. Austerity measures, using the excuse of economic crisis, have imposed austerity measures all over the world. Workers and their families are expected to accept these measures, whilst the rich increase their wealth spectacularly.

Alongside this xenophobia and racism have been stirred up, with the creation of populist and far right parties, often financed by billionaires. At a time when there is increasing disaffection with the situation, these parties have emerged to confuse and divide.

Further to this, once again, the drive to world war has reappeared, with wars in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe, and the war drums beating louder and louder in the media and with the rhetoric of politicians.  The grave threat of environmental crisis, becoming more apparent day by day, is ignored by politicians and capitalists for the short sighted pursuit of profit.

Despite this, resistance continues, with large movements against attacks on pensions, localised struggles around precarity and low pay, and campaigns against racism and police brutality.  Large sections of the working class, dormant for too long, have moved into struggle, with waves of strikes.

From the struggle for the 8 hour day up to today’s struggles, these examples demonstrate the crying need to create a new workers’ movement. Throughout these struggles we can begin to envision a new future and start to organise towards it. This new movement must be established on the principles of class struggle, that acts independently and does not wait for politicians and union bureaucrats. It must organise in the workplaces and in the neighbourhoods. It needs to link with movements against cuts to social services and education, to environmental movements and those movements against all forms of oppression, prejudice and discrimination.

All of these struggles are interconnected. Struggles against oppression cannot win without the power of the working class and the struggle of the working class cannot obtain victory without a fight against reactionary and backward ideas.

Let us remember the original message of May Day, the call to arms against Capital and State, against everyday exploitation. Let us continue to defend our class against the attacks of the bosses and the State, whilst looking towards a different future, a new world without classes, without  privilege, profit, and oppression. A new world where production is for need not profit, where all take part in decision making, where we live in harmony with nature.

The First of May was once a day when workers demonstrated their strength on a global level. We have to remind ourselves that we can do this again, that the values of May Day can be re-affirmed.

Long Live May Day! Long live internationalism! For independent working class politics, for Anarchism!