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Home | Newsroom | uncategorized | What Solidarity and the month of May mean to me

What Solidarity and the month of May mean to me

If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery – the wage slaves … Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up… You cannot put it out..” –August Spies  before being sentenced to death in 1886 by an Illinois court.

The Haymarket Martyrs, as many familiar with U.S labor history term the group, received worldwide attention at the time of the event, but many today do not know they are the reason International Workers Day is observed worldwide on May 1.

On May 4, 1886 a Chicago rally in support of an 8-hour work day was held in Haymarket Square. Chicago at the time was a hub of labor organizing activity, and a day earlier violence had broken out at the McCormick Harvesting Company aimed at striking workers.

The  police tragically killed workers during the rally when they opened fire on the crowd. The Haymarket crowd had been relatively peaceful; they were responding and gathering to protest the police killings from the day before, but as the police began to disperse the crowd, an unknown person threw a bomb at police. Police responded with  gunfire,killing other police officers and civilians. The aftermath led to the round up, trial, and execution of eight radical unionists.

As we end the month of May, it is the first day of month, not the last, that led to reflections on labor’s struggle but also other May Days and the moments activism and hope with them.

As a community college student in 2006, I cut my teeth on Mayday  activism at East Los Angeles College. Federal anti-immigrant legislation  had caused massive rallies across the country, and LA was no dififerent. In Los Angeles, massive student were spontaneous and uncoordinated. Student groups across L.A worked together to make May Day 1, 2006 huge, and it was. Some of the high school and college students that walked out of class later became professional labor/community organizers, teachers, professors, policy advocates, lawyers, and doctors.

Then came May Day 2016 and May Day 2017, when I was organizing with the L.A Street Vendor Campaign, which these marches with  hot dog vendors fighting to have their labor be formalized and no longer criminalized.  This, of course, was before the bill to legalize street vending in California was passed. Seeing vendors lead the march, knowing many ran from the police with scalding hot equipment in fear of police violence, brought me such joy. They owned the streets in a peaceful demonstration of power. The visuals/optics and their chants I can still hear.

To me, May Day is the day workers across the world show their political power. But it is more than that. It is a day when the poor, the economically marginalized and empowered communities highlight their struggle. It is a day on which I’ve taken my children out to gather with other likeminded folks to celebrate and demonstrate people power. I want my children, the future, to know the worker struggle continues.