May Day 2022: A Worker Reflects
By Mike Stone
May 1, 2022
May Day, International Labor Day, is a day unlike others. Born in blood, it has become both a day of celebration and a call for action when workers of the world will take to the streets to both celebrate accomplishments and make demands. In many places, there will be parades, marches, parties, and even where May Day is a holiday - rest. The Internationale will be played in homes and sung at rallies. Red flags and banners with slogans will fly. Many around the planet will be rejuvenated by the presence of their fellow workers and recommit to continuing the struggle for justice.
For this worker, May Day is a day of reflection. Every year I cannot resist remembering what has happened, reviewing what is happening, and wondering what will happen.
For reasons I can’t explain because I don’t know, first I always think about how far we have to go. I wish I could say the old saying “two steps forward, one step back” adequately describes our current situation, but it does not. Today life can feel more like one step forward, ten steps back. Thanks in no small part to those who cling to inequality, and billionaires and corporations who want to continue perpetuating the capitalist system that relies upon hatred and inequity, tyrant wannabes like Donald Trump and others dominate the news cycle. Their press conferences, gatherings, and speeches celebrating the merciless economic system we live under and its necessary tentpoles of racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and xenophobia, easily turn the stomachs of those who know we need better. State after state continues to elect and re-elect politicians who work toward the destruction of any freedoms except for rich, straight, “Christians” – and their friends and supporters - while those in power do nothing about climate change, discrimination, and poverty. And a flaccid Democratic party that either by choice or incompetence can’t muster to effectively combat those who are willing to destroy the republic under the cover of the lie “take America back”. What we are observing in the nation and around the world today forces recall of Trotsky’s observation that, “Fascism is the continuation of capitalism, an attempt to perpetuate its existence by means of the most bestial and monstrous measures.”
And many organizations that work for social justice are flawed in that they work separately from others seeking liberty, even opposing other groups that could help change people’s lives. What appears to be a super majority of forward-looking non-profits are so closely linked to the Democratic Party that they don’t seem to see how Democrats’ failures and often betrayal are hurting them. And reforms under capitalism are always incomplete. The Civil Rights Act did not end racism and Gay marriage did not end homophobia. Any reform that helps workers, especially workers that also suffer from discrimination will always be under siege. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 was gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court and states are well on their way to assaulting the right to vote, making it more difficult for working class People of Color to cast a ballot. It is very likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the near future. It’s no secret why there are attacks on even the mildest reforms and those who benefit from them; removal of all discrimination and inequity would cripple the capitalist system and endanger the fortunes of those who benefit from it as capitalism depends upon a fractured working class. Those who support capitalism, imperialism, and division are eager to crush reforms and kill the planet as they want every dollar for themselves, especially profits which only workers can create. Reforms also give a glimpse into what is possible – a world where people care for each other and the environment. They don’t want us to even imagine how workers and the Earth would benefit from socialism! It looks to me like there is a long ride ahead of us.
But how far have we come? I can’t help but think about the giants who came before and made it possible for those of us who struggle for justice today to do what we do. There are too many to name check, but some I can’t help but think about immediately. Eugene V. Debs, organized railroad workers, went to jail for publicly speaking out against World War I, and still ran for president. Helen Keller, who once she realized she could be heard, spoke up for socialism. Mother Jones, who lost her husband and four children to yellow fever and her dress shop in the Chicago fire, turned her grief into a passion for organizing workers. A. Phillip Randolph organized his fellow Black railroad workers during the height of Jim Crow, founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and was an outspoken activist for civil rights. Everyone who walks a picket line, goes on strike, runs for office on a socialist platform, and works for true freedom continues the work of these great people.
There are so many who stood up for what was right when it wasn’t easy. People marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge to be met with fire hoses and police dogs. Freedom Riders traveled to the south in defiance of segregation. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and The Congress of Racial Equality all fought segregation while the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement pushed back against racism in the unions and the workplace. Suffragettes marched for Women’s right to vote while being beaten and threatened. GLAAD was founded during the AIDS epidemic, decades before the first Civil Unions law was passed and Gay marriage was legalized. Soldiers returned from what was then America’s longest armed conflict and founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War. LGTBQ+ people defended themselves against police violence in Greenwich Village. Again, there are too many to mention, but many of us have lives better than prior generations and can express ourselves more freely because of their work.
There are also our modern fighters. People took to the street when Bill Clinton attacked affirmative action and the social safety net, banned Gay marriage, and bombed Iraq almost daily. They did so while so many ignored Clinton’s continuation of the Reagan/Bush agenda but with a Democratic face. Workers who, in the blood thirsty post 9/11 nationalism, protested looming wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brave folks continued to march, rally, and protest after the start of the wars despite being mocked by the press, harassed by police, being threatened with bodily injury and physically attacked by supporters of revenge, not justice. Workers who spoke up when President Obama drone bombed civilians, deported millions, and tried to further the cause of the privatization of our education system. Heroes who marched against Trump’s extremism and his fascist allies who were so empowered by him they had large rallies and beat and murdered people resisting Nazi hatred. Those of us who marched against racism after the death of George Floyd could not be ignored despite overwhelming police presence and a hostile media. As a result of the protests the conversation about race in America has been changed. Workers running to be elected – and sometimes winning - as open socialists despite a political system that is rigged to elect those who serve capital.
So, what will happen? Well, the future is unwritten but there is good reason for optimism. Lenin once said there are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen. This remains true. There is a lot of room in history for victory. 150 years ago, very few could have predicted the successes that have occurred and their impact on our lives and the world.
And every day the work continues- from activists marching in the street to community leaders feeding the homeless, from the young raising their voice for the first time to the oldest amongst us still in the fight, from indigenous people working for justice and recognition to urban dwellers opposing homeless sweeps. People changing their voter registration from the two major parties to unaffiliated. And Americans’ interest in socialism is growing, with thousands joining the movement in just the last few years. While U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is not a member of the Socialist Party, the fact that he received millions of votes in his presidential campaigns is encouraging for the future of socialists in our country.
Of course, all of this is not socialism – not even close. But positive change as a result of struggle is a window that allows us to look and see what is possible when the revolutionary moments needed to make the transition to a socialist world finally arrive. The effort to build a better future will continue this May Day and after. The path is steep, and there are steps forward and back again, but there is a road ahead and we are on the way. We stand on the shoulders of giants and there is a world to win!
Happy May Day, fellow workers!
Mike Stone is a worker and fellow traveler who writes using a pen name to protect his identity. Mike’s passions are justice, peace, and equality. Mike is a former member of SP-USA.