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North Texas Celebrated May Day

A small group gathered in Garland for an evening May Day celebration. We were an international crowd, with more than half Latinos. We started early with the barely-seen film, Bread and Roses about Latinos fighting the bosses in the Los Angeles "Justice for Janitors" war. As the film ended, our "crowd" reached its peak of 20 people. We ate savory Central American food and drank sodas.

A singer then led us in "Solidarity Forever," American labor's anthem. He noted that our group, the only people in a 4-million-strong population center to celebrate this important American holiday, was small. But we had millions of comrades the world over who were celebrating with us, and millions more behind us who had celebrated and dedicated themselves to the workers' cause in their lifetimes. Then he gave a little bit of the historical background of May Day and read the 1886 8-hour song as a poem. None of us knew the tune. Then he said that the millions of May Day celebrants were singing one song, "The International," in their own languages. Very few North Texans know this most famous of all the world's songs, but we had it written down on a handout (see below), and we did a creditable and very loud job of singing it. About half the anglos in our group had never heard the song before.

The best part came next when the songleader invited everybody else to share their views of May Day, then sat down. In Spanish, a man from Latin America said that May Day was the most important of all workers' holidays in his home country. He said that the entire nation takes off work, and that they are fully aware that they are commemorating something that happened in Chicago in 1886, even though most North Americans know nothing of it. Another man from Latin America backed him up, and then added some important upcoming events that we can work on to continue the historic tradition of May Day. A local woman spoke of the inspiration she had gained in studying the life of Lucy Parsons, who was born near Dallas. Another woman talked about the many fights ahead with a particular emphasis on the Bush Administration's attacks on the 1938 overtime law. She said we would fight on to defend and extend the 8-hour day.

A Middle Easterner said that everybody in his homeland celebrates May Day. In fact, he added, May Day was the one holiday that the fundamentalists in Iran had not been able to reschedule, change, or diminish. Further, he said that the Iraqi people held the biggest May Day celebrations in the Middle East before the American invasion. "It is ironic," he said, "that the American soldiers, who don't even know about their own American holiday, are preventing the Iraqis from gathering to celebrate it now!"

A man from the Caribbean talked about how important it is that the U.S. Navy had finally stopped bombing Vieques by May Day last year. A European immigrant briefly reviewed the growing crisis there, but added that the many May Day celebrations would bring the forces together, as they do every year. We didn't have anybody from Haiti, but we paused a moment to lament what U.S. armed forces are doing there.

A trade union activist talked about a big argument he had that day because his co-workers didn't understand the significance of May Day, and he wondered out loud why North Americans know so little about what is so important to our lives. That led right into a pitch for our good newspaper.

In our evening happily talking together, we strung together the many ongoing local struggles that different ones of us are working on. Intertwined strings make strong rope.

**

Honor the ongoing fight for the 8-hour day!

On May 1, 1886, American workers took to the streets to demand shorter working hours. In Chicago, where the largest march took place, police killed some striking workers. At a protest rally on May 4, police attacked again. Some of them were allegedly killed. The major leaders of the 8-hour movement were arrested and sentenced to be hanged, even though they had no part in the violence.

Our fight continued. In 1938, Americans won the Fair Labor Standards Act which guaranteed overtime pay for most hourly workers. Today, the Bush Administration is attempting to undermine and weaken this guarantee.

We fight onů

In 1886, they sang this song:

We mean to make things over
We're tired of toil for naught
But bare enough to live on
Never an hour for thought

We want to feel the sunshine
We want to smell the flowers
We're sure that God has willed it,
And we mean to have eight hours

We're summoning our forces
From shipyard, shop and mill
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest!
Eight hours for what we will!
 

Honor the martyrs of 1886 and the fight for the 8-hour day! They are buried together at Waldheim cemetery. The inscription quotes the final words of August Spies: "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

Since 1872, this has been the International Workers Song:

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation
Arise, ye wretched of the Earth
For justice thunders condemnation
A better world's at birth

No more, tradition's chains shall bind us
Arise ye slaves, no more in thrall
The Earth shall rise on new foundations
We have been naught we shall be all

T'is the final conflict
Let each stand in their place
The International Working Class
Shall free the human race!
T'is the final conflict
Let each stand in their place
The International Working Class
Shall free the human race!

//for a bunch of scholarly stuff on May Day: http://marx.org/subject/mayday/index.htm