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May Day, May Day

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

Today is May Day, or International Worker’s Day: a day to celebrate the long, hard struggle of workers for freedom, self-determination, and a better life. The day originated during the heady days of the Eight Hour Day campaign in the late 19th century, a campaign led not by bureaucratic union bosses, much less by Marxist thugs, but by ordinary workers agitating and organizing amongst themselves. Most of them were anarchists, and their struggle was as much against State power as it was against the bosses (part of the reason for May Day commemorations, mind you, is to remember the Haymarket martyrs, anarchists murdered by the state of Illinois).

One of the (many) crimes of the state socialists in the 20th century was their wholesale theft of May Day; what had been and properly remains a day for celebrating the free actions of ordinary workers became, in the bloody talons of the so-called workers’ states, a day for celebrating socialist God-Kings and hideous parades of military power. The folks over at Catallarchy have gone so far as to name May Day a Day of Remembrance for the victims of state Communism. What they are doing is important. The Moloch of Marxist-Leninism consumed more victims than any other power that the world has known in history–through mass executions, through unbelievable mass starvation, through pestilence, through death camps, through war. History is important and memory is political; the stories are harrowing but they need to be told. But I do not think that May Day is the day for the solemn observations. I think that this gives the butchers too much credit. Marxist-Leninism stole May Day from anarchists, from workers, like it stole everything else it ever gained in the 20th century. It did its best to silence its victims, like it did to silence all its other victims, with a bullet to the head and piles of pirated loot to parties and unions that would toe the Bolshevik line. I will not give up May Day to them any more than I will give Juneteenth up to William Tecumseh Sherman or give Easter up to the Holy Inquisition. (If you’re looking for a day of remembrance, I’d suggest the 6th of March, the day that the Kronstadt massacre began.) But today is the International Workers’ Day, not the State’s day–meaning neither the bureaucratic-managerial state so beloved of the conservative AFL-line unions, nor the blood-soaked workers’ states (a contradiction in terms). As I said last year:

May Day is a celebration of the original conception of the labor movement, as expressed by anarchist organizers such as Albert Parsons, Lucy Parsons, Benjamin Tucker, and others: a movement for workers to come into their own, by banding together, supporting one another, and taking direct action in the form of boycotts, work stoppages, general strikes, and the creation of workers’ spaces such as local co-operatives and union hiring halls. The spirit was best expressed by John Brill’s famous exhortation to Dump the bosses off your back–by which he did not mean to go to a government mediator and get them to make the boss sit down with you and work out a slightly more beneficial arrangement. Dump the bosses off your back! meant: organize and create local institutions that let you bypass the bosses. Negotiate with them if it’ll do some good; ignore them if it won’t. The signal achievements of the labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th century were achievements in this spirit: the campaigns that won the 8 hour day and the weekend off in many workplaces, for example, emerged from a unilateral work stoppage by rank-and-file workers, declared by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, and organized especially by the explicitly anarchist International Working People’s Association, after legislative efforts by the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor failed. The stagnant, or even backsliding, state of organized labor over the past half century is the direct result of government colonization and the ascendency of government-subsidized unions.

— GT 2004-05-01: Free the Unions (and all political prisoners)!

I don’t really have much to add to what I said before; you can get most of what I would have said by reading what I did say last year. All that I have to add is that the labor news this year has proved it again: when workers free themselves of the State, workers win.

[The Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ victory in the Taco Bell boycott campaign is] also — although you won’t hear this as much — a major victory for government-free, syndicalist labor organizing. The CIW is not a bureaucratic government-recognized union; as a form of organizing it’s far closer to an autonomous workers’ syndicate or a local soviet (in the old sense of a democratic, community-based workers’ council, not in the sense of the hollow state apparatus that the Bolsheviks left after the party committees seized power at bayonet-point). Of course, not having the smothering comfort of the US labor bureaucracy to prop them up has often made things harder on the CIW; but it’s also made them freer, and left them free of the restraints on serious and innovative labor activism that have held the government-authorized union movement back for the past 60 years. (Example: the strategic decision to target Taco Bell in the first place–that is, the whole damned campaign that allowed the Immokalee workers to win such a huge improvement in their standard of living–was a secondary boycott, and so would have been illegal under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act. But since the CIW doesn’t need a permission slip from the NLRB to engage in direct action, they won the day–not in spite of, but because of their freedom from government restraints on labor organizing.

— GT 2005/03/23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

(You can read more at GT 2005/03/23: El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! and GT 2005/03/30: Anarquistas por La Causa.)

Dump the bosses off your back. Free the Unions–and all political prisoners!

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