On May 1, 1886, workers and anarchists nationwide went on strike, demanding an eight-hour work day. The protests were peaceful—that is, until two days later on May 3, when Chicago police harassment led to violent clashes with protestors, which led policemen to open fire on the 40,000 protestors gathered in Haymarket Square. Two strikers were killed. Several were wounded.
The next day, Chicago anarchists called for a public meeting in response with 3,000 strikers from the previous day. When the police showed up again, there was another stand off.
A bomb was thrown from the crowd of civilians into the crowd of officers. The police fired. Eight officers died, 60 were injured. An unknown number of civilians were killed or wounded.
Now commonly called May Day, this year’s holiday is going to be a pivotal moment for workers rights, as pro-labor groups and community organizations will be joined by rejuvinated Occupiers. Occupy groups in over 130 cities across the nation have called for a general strike on May 1 in solidarity with unions and organizations that have been rallying for years.
May Day in Boston will be no different, with events and rallies offered from morning to evening, sponsored by the May Day Coalition
May 1 starts at 7am with Occupy Boston’s first annual Financial District Block Party, complete with breakfast and music. After that, they’ll march to 12pm May Day Rally in City Hall Plaza, organized by the Boston May Day Coalition.
Following the rally, board the blue line to Maverick and join the May First Coalition -- a union of Chelsea, East Boston, Everett community groups -- for a rally in East Boston’s Lopresti Park. From there, march to Chelsea City Hall and join the Chelsea Collaborative for another rally, and from there march to Everett’s Glendale Park for one last rally.
The day will come to a close with a celebratory funeral, during which street performers, marching bands and skeletons will take over the streets of Copley. This is Occupy’s funeral procession for Capitalism.
If you can’t make it into Boston, there will be more May Day rallies in surrounding areas, so join Occupiers in Worcester and Lowell or Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative and Occupy Berkshire in Pittsfield.
What started in Chicago has grown into an International Workers’ Day that is impossible to ignore.
“It’s a celebrated holiday in more than 80 countries,” says Jason Stephany of MassUniting. “People in those nations focus on the plight of working families, and what matters to them – wages, job security, safe working conditions.”
MassUniting is a coalition of community-based organizations, labor groups, and church unions – many of which have been involved with May Day for years.
There are plenty of reasons why International Workers’ Day is significant to the U.S.
“Look at the laws in Wisconsin and Ohio that eliminated rights of unions to discuss wages, rights, and working conditions,” says Stephany.
“We’ve seen a sustained assault on wages, driving them to lowest common denominator, and CEOS increasing the productivity of workers and decreasing what they compensate that productivity.”
Edwin Argueta, a workers’ rights organizer at Jobs with Justice, has been involved with May Day since 1999.
He notes that May 1 has become an important day in the fight for immigrant rights, “particularly after 2006, when a piece of legislation [was proposed that] aimed to criminalize both folks living in the U.S. while undocumented and anyone who came into contact with them.”
“Before that, maybe in 2003, there was a big push from mainly grass roots movements to further the rights of immigrants,” says Argueta.
“Most North Americans don’t celebrate the Latino immigrant worker,” says Keiyln Chicas of GOALS, a program run by the East Boston Ecumenical Community Counsel.
East Boston has a large Latino immigrant population and is the starting point for one of May Day’s main events – a march to Everett.
“Most are from immigrant families, some legal, some illegal,” says Keilyn Chicas. Chicas was herself a recent immigrant from El Salvador when she joined ASPIRA two and a half years ago. She was in the eleventh grade at East Boston High School and didn’t know a word of English. She joined ASPIRA and found some much needed support. “I became more comfortable, got better grades, learned more English. Eventually I became a student leader.”
She is now a leader in GOALS, which focuses on helping immigrant students, documented and undocumented, with college applications, and also gets them involved with rallies, marches and activism, including International Workers’ Day.
Argueta adds that while white “rank-and-file” union members are decreasing, immigrant and Latino union membership is up, demonstrating the overlap between the two issues.
In the end, it isn’t about immigrant or non-immigrant, union or non-union. The goal is solidarity.
“Because of activism like ours we’ve seen a change in terms of overall debate; even the most conservative Republican is talking about income disparity… There’s been a groundswell of activity—crowds get bigger every month.”
Stephany adds that in a way, May will signal the start of election season, as people will begin to look at “who stood with the 99% and who stood with the wealthy CEOs.”
“This is an opportunity to come together and not point the finger at each other,” says Argueta. “All workers are being attacked. We need to point the finder in the right direction—those on Wall Street who created this ‘casino economy.’”
“This is an opportunity for all workers whether blue collar, white collar, or no collar,” says Stephany. “Even if they’re not part of workforce, or still trying to find employment”
“This is a day for all workers, all of them.”
Here’s a list of May Day events:
11AM- March from Financial District Block Party to City Hall Plaza
11AM -- Boston Anti-Capitalist March from Copley Square to City Hall Plaze
12PM -- Boston May Day Coalition Rally
2PM -- East Boston May Day Rally in Lopresti Park
2:30PM -- March from East Boston to Everett Rally
3:30PM -- Chelsea May Day Rally at Chelsea City Hall
4PM -- Everett May Day Rally at Glendale park
7PM -- Death of Capitalism Funeral Procession at Copley Square