Monday, September 07, 2015

Their Holiday and Ours

In the USA and in Canada the 7th is Labo[u]r Day. There was a time when the North American labor movement celebrated May 1 as the holiday of all who toil. May Day had a tradition of labor struggle. American workers had engaged in desperate and dramatic struggles for the eight-hour day, and they made the First of May a labor holiday. The idea was taken up a few years later by workers in other countries and May Day became the International Labor Day. May Day has been immemorially the day of “the ordinary folk,” a day when the downtrodden, with songs and dances, greeted the return of Summer with its abundant yield from “Mother Earth.” With the advent of capitalism, the factory workers and slum dwellers became separated from Nature.

Canadian visitors to this blog will, of course, be fully aware that their Labor Day origins can be traced back to a 1872 printers strike in Toronto when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union's strike for a 58-hour work-week. Police arrested 24 leaders of the Typographical Union. Labour leaders decided to called for a demonstration on September 3 to protest the arrests. The Toronto Trades and Labour Council began to hold similar celebrations every spring. American Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was asked to speak at a labour festival in Toronto, Canada on July 22, 1882. Returning to the United States, McGuire and the Knights of Labor organised a similar parade based on the Canadian event on September 5, 1882.

The first Labor Day in the United States was observed on September 5, 1882, in Boston, by the Central Labor Union of New York, the nation's first integrated major trade union. It became a federal holiday in 1894, when, following the murder of workers during the Pullman Strike, in an attempt to appease the nation's workers, President Grover Cleveland fearing further conflict, rushed legislation through Congress to designate the first Monday in September Labor Day. The Cleveland Administration believed it would act as a counterweight to May Day, the international day of labor solidarity adopted by the First Congress of the Second Socialist International in 1889 to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886 so from its outset Labor Day symbolized the official American labor movement’s commitment to a more moderate form of politics! May Day emphasized the fact that the working class had to fight for its right to organize and for all the gains it had won in wages, hours and conditions of work. It was to counteract the militant working class spirit of its marching legions on May Day that the government set aside the first Monday in September as a labor holiday. The American Labor Day came as a “gift” which the workers received from their masters, through their servile politicians

To-day’s Labor Day must not become a symbol of workers’ docility, of collaboration with the bosses, of everything that weakens and hurts the working class. It cannot be that day when politicians and employers pat their workers on the back and counsel them to be good wage-slaves, not to resist their bosses, not to demand higher wages, shorter hours or better working conditions. On Labor Day we must expose that great falsehood the slogan of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.” Since wages imply exploitation, and represent but a minor fraction of the total product of labor, it is self-evident that wages can never be fair. Wages grow out of a system of unfairness, of robbery. Accordingly, for labor to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a “fair wage” is to kow-tow to the principle of exploitation, to kiss the hand that robs it and impresses on the mind of labor the “duty” to deliver its goods—its ability to produce—to the master joyfully and to the fullest capacity. It puts on the worker, by his own consent, the brand of the slave.

We have seen how Labor Day is used by the politicians to advertise and promote themselves. Every shrewd politician will pose as a “friend of labor”, shaking hands and jovially slapping the labor union leaders on the back (often to later to stab them in the back), seeking to secure their endorsement with a lot of empty promises and false hopes before setting off to the state capitol or Washington on the labor vote, promptly forgetting his pledges until next election rolls around. Socialist politics have been effectively kept out of the American union movement, while capitalist politics have run riot to labor’s undoing.

It is time that Labor Day 2015 brings home the point: There is need for a change of our society. Socialism is a necessity. It would destroy the capitalist system wherein one class is enriched by exploiting the majority. We need socialism because the means of life, the factories, mines, mills and land would belong to the people! We need socialism because production of the necessities of life would be for the use of the people instead of the profit of a few.

We are all one—all workers of all lands and climes. We know not color, nor creed, nor gender in the workers movement. We know only that that with solidarity of labor, we will vanquish wage-slavery and humanize the World. But when all is said and done, the workers won’t get much from this annual love-feast of Labor Day messages and speeches.

The Socialist Party of Canada and the World Socialist Partyof the United States on this Labor Day, raise their banners and sound forth the historic battle-cry of the World Socialist Movement, “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a world to gain!”

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