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Several socialist groups came together on April 29, 2018, in Lake Cliff Park in Dallas to celebrate MayDay. They were kind enough to allow the oldest person in attendance to remind them of the long workers’ tradition by leading singing of “The International.”

Another Mayday celebration, by another group of socialists, takes place at Kidd Springs Park at 5:30PM on May 1st. One cannot help but observe that the progressive movement, even the activists who supposedly have the highest levels of consciousness, continues to be disunited. It’s like Will Rogers used to say about the weather: “Everybody talks about unity, but nobody does anything about it!” I believe the trend, though, is positive.

The trend toward celebrating the International Workers Day is a very positive sign. I can remember reserving that very same Lake Cliff Park pavilion May 1, 1984, and doing all the preparations and publicizing myself. Then I sat there, alone, for two hours hoping somebody would come, but they didn’t! This year, we have two of them. The first one had about 40 people, and I imagine the second will be at least as big.

I’ll be doing a talk about “MayDay Then and Now” at Roma’s Pizza, 7402 Greenville Avenue, beginning at 6 pm on Saturday, May 5th. I’d like to count that as a third MayDay celebration. Every year, I publicize MayDay on my radio show.

MayDay Has a History

The workers’ movement, of course, goes back at least to Moses and the slaves of Egypt, and workers probably celebrated the vernal equinox around MayDay long before they had calendars. But the year 1886 marks the close association of the workers’ movement with May 1.

That year, the word went out from Chicago for a worldwide general strike to demand the 8-hour day. There were protests everywhere. Strikers were killed in Chicago. A police riot erupted on May 4th during another rally in Haymarket square. Authorities came down hard on the Chicago movement and, in 1887, hanged four of the main leaders. Since then, the world remembers “Chicago, 1886” on May 1st.

The repression from the bosses combined with the opportunism of many American labor leaders separated the Americans from the International Workers Day; consequently there have been few celebrations here until recently.

Was Labor Stronger Before?

Almost any reading of labor history will bring out the romantic in us. We long for the great general strike of 1874, or the worldwide struggle of 1886, or the organizing frenzy of 1935-1947. In 1980, when the American government decisively teamed up with the bosses to suppress the labor movement, unions began a numerical free fall that continues today. We had 35% of the workforce organized into unions, and we have only 11% now. People dream about the good old days.

No, We’re Stronger Now!

But despite the decline in union numbers, American labor is actually stronger today than ever. Part of the reason is productivity, but most of it is education. One worker today is four times as productive as those who organized in 1935-47. If one worker walks off the job today, it’s like four workers striking in the old days.

We have more unity than ever. In 1935-47, remember that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations were two separate and competing organizations. Remember also that racism and other kinds of chauvinism were far more divisive in the “old days” than they are today. The AFL-CIO didn’t even try to organize the millions of undocumented workers before 1999 — they joined the government in calling for deportation!

Today, the AFL-CIO bends over backward to work with church, civil rights, and community organizations. In 1987, unions were so totally isolated that five of the more progressive ones had to create a separate organization, Jobs with Justice, to try to build solidarity outside the official labor movement. Today, virtually all unions have gone past their initial hostility and regularly work with Jobs with Justice and other solidarity efforts.

In the old days, many workers were barely literate. Today, we command more information than they could have imagined. With our phones and computers, workers have the ability to function as almost a single worldwide unit. That’s power! We’re only at the first stages of using it, but today we have the power!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab. If you are interested in what I really think, look at my personal web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s June 25th, the 81st anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act. We can thank President Roosevelt and Labor Secretary Perkins for this greatest accomplishment of America’s centuries-long fight for shorter working hours.

haymarketvoices

Four Chicago leaders of the 8-hour day were hanged in 1887

A number of Americans were killed when we led the worldwide fight for the 8-hour day in 1886. The Chicago Haymarket Martyrs are the best known. Workers still make pilgrimages to their grave site.

YouTube has a darned good description of the fight as it took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the good things about it is that it has a miner’s version of the “8-Hour Song” that was sung everywhere.

The Fight Was Set to Music

I don’t think it’s the best version. The words for the best version are below and they are worth studying for the pure art of it, not to mention the great historical importance. I can’t find this version on YouTube and so I made up a tune and sang it myself. It’s on my Gene Lantz Facebook Page.

We’ve Always Fought over Working Hours

One could say that the entire history of labor could be written as a fight over working hours. I’ve written about that before.

The Battle Continues

For many years, millions of workers have been exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and could be worked pretty much endlessly with no extra pay. Among them are low-paid “salary” workers. The Obama Administration’s Department of Labor recently changed the rules so a lot more people could get overtime pay. Almost immediately, a coalition of bosses sprang up to oppose it. I wrote about that, too.

–Gene Lantz

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The 8-Hour Song

We mean to make things over,

We are tired of toil for naught

With but bare enough to live upon

And ne’er an hour for thought.

We want to feel the sunshine

And we want to smell the flow’rs

We are sure that God has willed it

And we mean to have eight hours;

We’re summoning our forces

From the shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will;

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will.

**

The beasts that graze the hillside,

And the birds that wander free,

In the life that God has meted,

Have a better life than we.

Oh, hands and hearts are weary,

And homes are heavy with dole;

If our life’s to be filled with drudg’ry,

What need of a human soul.

Shout, shout the lusty rally,

From shipyard, shop, and mill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

The voice of God within us

Is calling us to stand

Erect as is becoming

To the work of His right hand.

Should he, to whom the Maker

His glorious image gave,

The meanest of His creatures crouch,

A bread-and-butter slave?

Let the shout ring down the valleys

And echo from every hill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Ye deem they’re feeble voices

That are raised in labor’s cause,

But bethink ye of the torrent,

And the wild tornado’s laws.

We say not toil’s uprising

In terror’s shape will come,

Yet the world were wise to listen

To the monetary hum.

Soon, soon the deep toned rally

Shall all the nations thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

From factories and workshops

In long and weary lines,

From all the sweltering forges,

And from out the sunless mines,

Wherever toil is wasting

The force of life to live

There the bent and battered armies

Come to claim what God doth give

And the blazon on the banner

Doth with hope the nation fill:

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

For it shall arise in might

It has filled the world with plenty,

It shall fill the world with light

Hurrah, hurrah for labor,

It is mustering all its powers

And shall march along to victory

With the banner of Eight Hours.

Shout, shout the echoing rally

Till all the welkin thrill.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest…