(Leaflet of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee)
. 120 years ago U.S. workers mounted a powerful movement for the eight-hour day that culminated in the great general strike of May 1, 1886. This movement, the strike, and the un-bowing heroism of the Chicago leaders who were framed and hanged by the authorities in revenge inspired class-conscious workers everywhere. Thus, beginning in 1889, the Second International established May Day as the great fighting holiday of the world's workers. It was to be a day to not only reflect on and celebrate past victories, but also an international day of protest against tyranny and exploitation, a day to further organize the class struggle.
. This May Day the class struggle continues, with the battles varying in scope and intensity from country to country. During the past year in France the national minority and immigrant youth of the working-class suburbs rose in an unprecedented 3-week nation-wide rebellion against police harassment and repression, discrimination and segregation, anti-immigrant hysteria and police-state laws. This was followed by a huge struggle by millions of workers and youth against reactionary sides of a concession by the government to the powerful youth rebellion. In Nepal the workers and oppressed peasantry have mounted general strikes, mass protests, blockades, and armed struggle in a mighty democratic struggle to topple the tyrannical monarchy. We raise our fists in worker-solidarity with these and many other struggles, big and small, that have been waged all over the world during the past year. They are necessary prerequisites for both a new general upsurge of the world's workers, and for the ultimate emancipation of the working class.
. Meanwhile, in the United States fresh winds are blowing this May Day. While the anti-war movement continues, in recent months the entire country has seen unprecedented huge demonstrations for immigrant rights, with the millions of people who have filled the streets being overwhelmingly members of the working class. Moreover, May Day has been the date chosen for an immigrant strike and boycott, and more big demonstrations.
. We hail this development, and call on all workers to support the immigrants' struggle! This is a just struggle against pending laws that would either turn 11 or 12 million hard-working people into felons, or each year lock hundreds of thousands of them into a situation of having to jump through difficult and costly hoops for 10 to 14 years before they could be citizens, with the threat of deportation always over their heads if they stood up to protest their conditions or the conditions of their fellow U.S.-born workers. This struggle is of vital interest to every worker, immigrant or not! As long as immigrant workers are denied full rights and equality the capitalists will super-exploit their labor-power and thereby drive down the wages and conditions of all workers. Furthermore, the movement for immigrant rights is exciting the workers, oppressed nationalities, and youth of this country about the power of combined action, and it has potential for enlivening the anti-war movement, the struggle of African Americans against racial discrimination and police repression, and all of the other movements that are in the vital interests of the working masses.
. But if this important new movement is to develop to its fullest potential it must fight and overcome sabotage from withinjust as the workers at the first May Day had to do. Their experience has a valuable lesson for today:
. Immediately before 1886 the Knights of Labor was the biggest and most important force among the U. S. workers. But its dominant leaders sought respectability in bourgeois society, and recoiled from the idea that the class struggle was the vehicle for achieving progress for the oppressed. Instead they advocated educational work in society in general, and, as the eight-hour movement grew in strength they actively opposed and tried to sabotage the call for a general strike on May 1. Instead of mass action the workers were supposed to peaceably write letters to the newspapers arguing that the eight-hour day would really benefit the entire country, workers and capitalists alike.
. In 2006, the movement for immigrant rights faces a similar issue. The Democratic Party liberals as well as some conservative Republicans opposed H. R. 4437 with bills for "comprehensive" immigration reform that were in fact comprehensive attacks on immigrants, with Bush himself going over to support for "comprehensive reform". And in the movement support for these alternative anti-immigrant bills has been echoed by the leaders of several immigrant rights groups, as well as the SEIU and UNITE-HERE leadership--all of whom helped organize the first big protests. Like the leadership of the old Knights of Labor, these leaders preach respectability, and they fear the movement will take up the politics of mass struggle. So now some of these groups are actively opposing the motion among immigrants for strikes and a boycott on May Day. The leaders of the Latin American Integration Center in N.Y., National Capital Immigration Coalition in D.C., Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in L.A., Honduran Unity in Miami, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Cardinal Roger Mahony are now working to sabotage the motion toward a powerful May Day strike and boycott. Some preach fear of "backlash", while others offer alternatives to class struggle like persuading businesses to close for 30 minutes in honor of immigrants.
. Meanwhile, in Seattle we had an April 10 where tens of thousands of spirited voices chanted and shouted slogans along the entire march route. This was a real upper, with people coming away from it excited about further building the movement. But now the groups calling the May Day march want people to be silent and wear black. Their stated reason for this is commemoration of all the people who have died trying to cross the border in the desert. This issue would seem an appropriate subject for a speech followed by moments of silence for reflection, but here we have un-elected leaders trying to impose their will on what the thousands of people in the streets are to do for the entire march! This tactic for May Day--the workers' day of protest against exploitation and tyranny--would seem to work to dampen the much-needed proletarian spirit we witnessed April 10.
. So our lesson is this: Workers everywhere would not be celebrating May Day had not the U.S. workers in 1886 brushed aside the Knights of Labor's preachers of class peace to take action. (And a large number of these workers were immigrants.) In 2006 the call for an immigrant strike on May 1 is again a test of strength for the workers. How much will the advice of today's respectable preachers of class peace be brushed aside by immigrant workers (and others) striking and filling the streets? Moreover, after May Day there will be new tests because some big groups that are actively organizing for the May 1 strike and boycott actually do support-work for McCain-Kennedy-style comprehensive attacks on immigrants. Will the masses taking to the streets on May 1 have the necessary consciousness and independent organization to challenge and eventually overcome this other betrayal of their interests?
. The only answer is that it will take struggle to acquire and spread consciousness of the reactionary nature of all the bills in Congress, and hard struggle to build independent organization. But the kind of life the Democrats and Republicans want to legislate and impose on many millions of our fellow workers is not just hard, it's an outrage! This gives us confidence in saying that the struggle will continue. It also inspires us to work hard to make May 1, 2006 a memorable day in the struggle for immigrant rights.
. This May Day comes at a time when workers all over the world have been suffering the effects of a neo-liberal offensive that has been for decades driving their wages and conditions downward, disorganizing them, and throwing them into competition in an international "race to the bottom"; a time when environmental concerns mount at an alarming; a time of increasing police-state denial of democratic rights in the name of fighting "terrorism"; a time of racist attacks on immigrants, ferocious militarism and imperialist wars.
. The hidden motor driving this nightmarish world forward is capitalism itself, a system whose
inescapable laws of competition drive it to increase exploitation of the workers, repress
resistance, rape the earth, and to wars. According to the capitalists this system is the best of all
possible worlds, the highpoint and end of history itself. The logic of this is that the exploited and
oppressed working people have no future other than endless struggle to resist the effects of this
downward spiraling system, while never thinking of struggling to remove the cause of the effects.
But the politically conscious workers who were the militant catalyst of the eight-hour movement
didn't think this, nor do we. Their watchword was "abolition of wage slavery!" (capitalism), and
it was through movements like the eight-hour movement then, and the immigrant rights and other
movements today that the workers gained consciousness of themselves as a class with interests
diametrically opposed to the capitalists. It was through these movements that the workers would
get organized, gain confidence, and transform themselves into a class capable of organizing
production without the rule of the capitalist whip, and based on the needs of the people rather
than the market and profit. This vision of turning the old world upside down inspired the heroic
martyrs of 1886, as it has inspired class-conscious workers ever since. It is another thing we
celebrate and rededicate ourselves to on May Day.
Workers, get organized!
Full rights for all immigrants now!
U. S. imperialism, get out of Iraq!
Workers of all countries, unite!
Seattle Anti-imperialist Committee, April 29, 2006
April 29, 2006.