Coming together in working class solidarity!
May Day can be your local mixer of “who’s who” in the radical and progressive scene, giving ample excuse to bring out the flags and dust off IWW songs from the 1930s. As we are heading into deep periods of post-crisis recession, institutional union busting, increasing repression of civil liberties, and a general crisis in working class confidence, it can take something like May Day, or International Workers Day, to bring back people’s confidence in the movements they are seeding.
Portland, Oregon’s event has been marked by a unity of radicalism and Big Labor, where unions participate alongside anarchists just as they would in more conventional Labor Day parades. In the wake of the Occupy Movement, 2012’s march was glossed with police confrontation and militant street action. The last two years saw a far more tame (by comparison) show, but saw steady participation and rhetoric about both capitalism and corporate control without using coded language to soften the blow.
This year, as many as a thousand people descended on Portland’s Park Blocks to first rally then march, bringing together a diverse crowd that seemed to highlight a few key ideas. As with 2013’s event, immigration was a top focus with signs donning slogans like “No One Is Illegal,” and the crowd has a larger influx of Spanish speakers. Both universal healthcare and a call to a $15 an hour minimum wage were popular targets, part of which is from the local $15 Now campaign pushed by people like the Socialist Alternative. This is on the heels of Seattle’s announcement that they will be the first city to institute a $15 an hour minimum wage, which was a main platform point of their new socialist city councilor. Though the ten year plan to institute this new minimum wage leaves a lot to be desired, it clearly was motivating a great deal of action locally. The IWW’s new “High Five” campaign was infecting new life into the discussion of what wage increases can mean beyond simply adjusting the minimum wage, especially since its goal looks at five dollar and hour raises in a workplace through organizing in that workplace.
Whether it was targeting the TransPacific Partnership, looking towards labor issues, or suggesting a critique of late capitalism itself, economics is still at the forefront of a day used to celebrate the success of the eight-hour workday.
Since May Day is a yearly event that is not dependent on a specific campaign, we often see more generalized anti-capitalist language. All of this is built on a set of ideological ideas since, as the history of the holiday suggests, these are ongoing struggles that are not disappearing after individual campaigns are won or lost. With that being known, it can often be more of a celebration for organizers who have been fighting hard and thinking tactically all year to simply come together and stand in solidarity. At the same time, the amount of effort and labor that goes into an event like this is also the perfect time to focus in on our campaigns and use them as leverage to build the movements that we need to inch our way forward to the final goals the day is spirited with.
ILWU speaking out against union busting!
While this was very clear for wage campaigns and healthcare campaigns, the real standout here is with the ILWU Local 4 and their lockout with United Grain. The International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union Local 4 have been shut out of their workplace for more than a year as scabs have been brought in. Local 8 in Seattle has seen similar union busting tactics, and members of the Portland Solidarity Network and many other organizations stood with the ILWU and blocked the scabs entrance to the port several weeks before. This is an ongoing fight and they came in force with support from everyone from the Laborers to the IWW to Jobs With Justice. As the march continued on its set path, which was permitted specifically, the ILWU lead a breakaway contingent that was made up of the majority of attendees. They headed directly over to the Wells Fargo building, which is also the local headquarters of United Grain. There they rallied in front of the building and told the story of working people trying to make ends meet as their livelihood and right to organize is being severed. They put out a call to action and solidarity, and asked that we collectively stand together as they head into heated negotiations in the coming months. This was the most energetic moment of the entire day as there was an almost universal moment of connection as we saw the reality of working-class struggle right in front of us, and we were given the choice to participate. As they decended from the steps they were met by a round of hugs and handshakes, and they responded with the kind of love you only get when people have decided together to fight a shared battle.
This shows the perfect use of a day like today, where the abstract ideas the holiday was built on are brought home and given tactical equipment. Today the march became a tool in the fight with United Grain, and will hopefully drum up even more support as the ILWU continues its fight.
What was noticeably absent from the march was a focus on housing issues that marked much of the previous year’s engagement. Last year, foreclosure and eviction were a chant-ready topic that were tied to everyone’s economic and immigration concerns, but it was almost completely absent from the discourse. This is largely from a deficit of local work around housing issues, especially after the promising SEIU project Housing is for Everyone dissolved. For the Portland Solidarity Network, this shows the importance of moving into tenant work as the issue continues to be of incredible importance even as the housing market appears to recover.
The showing of May Day was impressive from coast to coast, and we even saw a 1,500 person crowd form in Salem focusing on immigration. Thousands took to the streets in cities like New York and Chicago, where the sentiment echoed many of the same issues that we were seeing in Portland. This can often be a temperature check for the collective mood of the country and what issues are really on people’s minds, but more specifically it tends to be a reflection of exactly what issues and campaigns people are actively organizing around.
As we head back into our daily work we should use this as a time to reflect on how this global day of action can really be tied directly to our struggles. As the Portland Solidarity Network continues wage-theft campaigns with partners like the VOZ Worker’s Rights Education Project and tenant support issues, we want to use this momentum to get right down to the campaigns that see material results for everyone’s lives. Let’s make next year’s May Day the culmination of the kind of fights that get traction and see working class power developing in our workplaces and neighborhoods. Let’s get something big to celebrate next year!