Worldwide, May 1 is a working-class holiday. Originating in the fight for the eight-hour day in the 1880s in the U.S., it is a day of demonstrations, strikes, and memorializing the struggles that won gains for working people. Today, working people face a drastic social crisis due to incredible inequality – and this is before the next recession hits!
Working people are stepping up in struggle – from the teachers revolts in West Virginia to Oakland, to the recent Stop & Shop strike in New England. More American workers went out on strike in 2018 than any single year since 1986! This trend is international as well: in France the yellow vests movement continues and general strikes helped bring down Algeria’s hated president.
In the latest stage of the education revolt, teachers in South Carolina are walking out on May 1. South Carolina schools have been underfunded for 11 years and teachers are struggling to live on their salaries while class sizes remain too large.
Meanwhile, private sector workers have begun to absorb the energy and resolve of the teachers’ revolt as was shown in the recent Stop & Shop strike. After decades of defeats and concessions, striking is back because workers see the opportunity to push back against the corporate elite in an economy where we are told about labor shortages in many sectors. After exhausting all other avenues, working people are looking at the strike as key weapon to win better pay, benefits, and working conditions.
While strikes have not yet spread to most sectors, for those who have come out, it has provided a rapid education in the class struggle. More than ever working-class activists are looking for new strategies that involve mobilizing the full weight of their coworkers. This can and will lead to a renewal in union leaderships as union members look away from the lobbying and concessionary strategies and toward class-struggle ideas. This also poses the need for a new political force based on the interests of working people. As in all previous periods when the labor movement in the U.S. began to move onto the offensive, socialists in the labor movement have a key role to play.
May Day was brought back to prominence in the U.S.in 2006 on the “day without an immigrant” which saw mass strikes against vicious anti-immigrant legislation. Today, under Trump, it is more critical than ever to mobilize native born and immigrant workers around their common interests. We need to rebuild the fighting traditions of the labor movement to battle for living wages, health care, and housing for all.