The fortunate idea to use the celebration of a proletarian day of rest as a means of obtaining the 8-hour day first originated in Australia. In 1856 the workers there decided to organise a day of a total stoppage of work to demonstrate for the 8-hour day. The date of this demonstration was to be 21 April. In the beginning the Australian workers had envisaged this only for the year 1856. But this first demonstration had such an effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, stimulating them and leading to new campaigns, that it was decided to repeat this demonstration every year.
What in fact could give workers more courage and more confidence in their own strength than a massive stoppage of work which they have themselves decided? What would give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and workshops than the gathering of their own troops? Thus the idea of a proletarian festival was rapidly accepted and began to spread from Australia to other countries until it conquered the whole proletariat of the world.
The first to follow the example of the Australians were the Americans. In 1886 they decided that the first of May would be a universal day of stopping work. That day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the 8-hour day. The police and legal harassment later prevented for some years the workers from repeating demonstrations of this size. However in 1888 they renewed their decision, planning that the next demonstration should be the first of May 1890.
In the meantime the workers' movement in Europe had strengthened and motivated itself. The strongest expression of this movement took place at the congress of the Workers International in 1889. At the congress, made up of 400 delegates, it was decided that the 8-hour day should be the priority demand. The delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from Bordeaux, proposed on this that this demand should be expressed in all countries by a universal stoppage of work. The delegate of the American workers drew attention to the decision of his comrades to go on strike on the first of May 1890 and the congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian festival.
On this occasion, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers were actually thinking of a one-off demonstration. The congress decided that the workers of all countries should demonstrate together for the 8-hour day on the first of May 1890. Nobody spoke about repeating the day without work in the following years. Naturally, nobody could foresee the brilliant success that this idea was to have nor the speed with which it was to be adopted by the labouring classes. However, it was enough to demonstrate once on the first of May for everybody to understand that the first of May had to be annual and perennial.
The first of May demanded the establishment of the 8-hour day. But even after this aim has been achieved the first of May should not be abandoned. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the dominant classes continues, as long as all the demands are not met, the first of May will be the annual expression of those demands. And, when the better days come, when the working class of the world has won its emancipation, then humanity will probably also celebrate the first of May in honour of the determined struggles and numerous sufferings of the past.
(Article by Rosa Luxemburg published in the Polish journal Sprawa Robotnicza in 1894, translated from the French translation at the following link.)
In light of the fact that conditions remain the same regarding the struggle for the rights of 'immigrant' workers, the World Socialist Party has decided to reissue it's May Day statement from '06.We also feel that is does an exemplary job of describing just what we are fighting for - democracy in the class struggle and a new, non-reformist direction. -Jason (WSP)
World Socialist Party May Day Statement
May Day 2007
Somethings going on in the U.S. Its obvious that in the immigrant workers movement we are seeing a new form of the class struggle arise. Based in the working class struggle of Latin America, a movement for the largest strike wave in 60 years is building. Indeed, along with many other congruent factors, the current immigrant workers rights movement is laying the groundwork for what may be the biggest mass labor movement in a century.
New Organizing For workers to stand up for their interests often means harassment, repression, prison or death. More insidious, however, is the history of attempts by the Left to talk workers out of thinking for themselves. The history of the 20th century shows the leaders of working class movements - the Communists, the trade union officials, etc. - while often doing beneficial work on low levels, also pushing a bigger agenda - defending the USSR, political contacts, etc. - that eliminates our interests. These leaders naturally design their goals to mesh with the system; they are not thinking beyond the needs of capital in their urgent projects.
In Mexico, new methods of organizing around these problems were created to draw out large groups of people. In the U.S. weve seen a similar movement growing up around the Seattle WTO protests. The method of creating mass leaderless protests is a new one and not without problems. But it does allow for a measure of real democracy, as opposed to the rigidly organized movements that were typical between the 1930s and 80s.
But Watch Out! The working class is often cursed with the worst sorts of friends. The unions, the leftists and the small capitalists all know what to do. These folks aren't just offering advice, they offer themselves as a leadership and give us only division. Don't worry, they will do the hard work for us. All we have to do is show up and clap for them. They will admit they have misled us in the past, even that theyve sold us out. Promises are always made no mistakes, no sellouts this time.
Knowledge is Needed What is needed, really, is to know what not to do: - Dont give up democratic decision making - even if it means leaderless rallies, we all need to have a voice in the movement.
Movements are communities of thought that reflect priorities and assumptions, and a lack of practical democracy mirrors the same lack of interest in real democracy that clutters the worldview of most capitalists. Without insisting on democratic control, workers will find themselves once again muscled out of the chance to really stand capitalism on its head.
Don't let outside organizations - parties, unions, etc. - turn leaderless rallies into opportunities for self-advertisement. Anyone who cannot see through the polite fictions of capitalism is, whether they think so or not, going to end up prescribing yet another new set of bosses to replace the currently unpopular set. Do't set yourself up for realizing too late you were just a pawn in someone elses game.
Above all, don't forget that capitalism can only provide what capitalists regard as a reasonable profit. Thinking outside their box will sound only like extravagant fantasy to them, and they will never budget a penny for it. For now, we live under the capitalist system, so we have to understand capitalism. Not even radical businessmen are interested in sacrificing profits just for the sake of the human factor. The history of protests is littered with the bones of false confidence. The sum total of all demands must always be able to fit through the drain of profit. That is all they can give us - but they will expect givebacks in return.
About Us: Since 1916 the World Socialist Party has been organized to provide a clear and concise analysis of the capitalist system, its methods of organization and its problems. Workers can only solve those problems by eliminating capital and wages from the economy, and returning the control of wealth production to the worlds communities, where it resided before economic classes and governments arose. We invite you to investigate our work.