Apr 26

Remembering May Day in America

Statement Adopted by the Socialist Party of Michigan Saturday, April 26,2003

International Workers Day, or May Day, is a day of celebration, remembrance and solidarity. On the first of May, workers throughout the world demonstrate for better working conditions, socio-economic equality, universal healthcare and education, and the right to unionize and strike. But, to best understand why workers in America should celebrate May Day, we need to know its history.

The 19th century witnessed some of the worst acts of barbarity in the workplace. Women, children and immigrants were used as a source of cheap and obedient labor, working conditions were outrageous, unions were small and brutally repressed, and workers spent 10, 12 or 14 hours a day making profit for the bosses. It was capitalism at its best.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) passed a resolution demanding the eight-hour workday, starting from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike; by April 1886, over 250,000 Americans had heeded the call. The eight-hour movement was growing rapidly and radically, especially in Chicago.

On May 3, 1886, following some successes, strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works Factory in Chicago faced police batons and bullets. Four workers were killed and many injured. Immediately afterwards, a local group of anarchists organized an anti-police brutality rally in Haymarket Square. On May 4, thousands came out for the evening rally without incident.

As the last speaker took to the platform the rally had dwindled down to a couple hundred, and nearly 200 police officers moved in to disperse the crowd. In the shuffle, a bomb was thrown among the police, killing one and injuring dozens, resulting in police gunfire, which killed or injured an unknown number of workers.

This event became known as the Haymarket Tragedy (or “Haymarket Riot”), and saw a sharp increase in police repression of anarchists, socialists and unionists.

Eight prominent Chicago anarchists — August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe — were arrested, tried and convicted of conspiracy in the Haymarket bombing by a rigged jury and biased judge, with little evidence and even though only one was actually at the rally (and he was a speaker on the platform).

Parsons, Spies, Fischer and Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887; Louis Lingg committed suicide the day before his execution on November 10, 1887; Illinois Governor Altgeld pardoned Fielden, Schwab and Neebe on June 26, 1893.

In 1889, the founding congress of the Second (Socialist) International met in Paris, France, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution, and called for a worldwide demonstration for the eight-hour day.

May 1, 1890, saw mass demonstrations throughout Europe and the Americas. Frederick Engels, who attended the first May Day demonstration in London on May 3, wrote: “As I write these lines, the proletariat of Europe and America is holding a review of its forces; it is mobilized for the first time as one army, under one flag, and fighting for one immediate aim: an eight-hour working day.”

In 1904, the Second (Socialist) International declared May 1 an annual day of demonstration “for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat and for universal peace.”

Unfortunately, May Day began to lose importance in the United States, its place of origin. In 1894, the U.S. government declared the first Monday in September as Labor Day, with the aim of pulling the labor movement away from the radical nature of May Day. The American Federation of Labor (successor to the FOTLU) was becoming one of the largest unions in America and, by 1905, had gone with the government in supporting Labor Day and disavowing May Day altogether.

To add insult to injury, the American Bar Association declared May 1 a celebration of the principles and practices of capitalist law and order — Law Day. Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day by proclamation in 1958. That such a day of international workers’ solidarity can be turned into a celebration of capitalist “justice” is a disgrace to the women, men and children who struggle under exploitive conditions, and the Haymarket martyrs who lost their lives in the pursuit of justice in America.

Today, International Workers’ Day is celebrated throughout the world and is recognized as the official workers’ holiday in almost every country, except the United States. Each year, millions of workers demonstrate, wave flags and carry banners, sing and dance, educate, organize and agitate for a better, peaceful tomorrow.

As workers of the world, it is our duty to remember our past and to use that strength to carry our class into the future. As the great socialist and unionist Eugene V. Debs said in 1907, “This is the first and only International Labor Day. It belongs to the working class and is dedicated to the revolution.”

Workers of the World, Unite!

Mar 22

Stop the War against Iraq

Saturday, March 22, 2003The Socialist Party of Michigan (SPMI) opposes and condemns the attack on Iraq in the strongest possible terms. We stand with the majority of people in the United States and around the world in opposing this unilateral war of aggression and conquest.

This war is illegal, immoral and unjust. It is a predatory war for the benefit of American and British petroleum companies, many of whom have close ties to the Washington government. The Bush regime, the Republicans and most Democrats in Congress have joined together to bring misery and death to the people of Iraq. It is no coincidence that the first casualties of this war were civilians — mostly women and children.

Bush and his cohorts have chosen to spend billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to invade and occupy Iraq in order to “stimulate” the bottom lines of capitalist industries, many of which have close ties to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, critical social services like education, housing, healthcare and local infrastructure are ignored and allowed to collapse.

At a time when there appears to be no end in sight to the economic recession and crisis, Bush and his generals are spending billions in a cynical oil and land grab. Cost projections for the first year of war and occupation range between $90 and $300 billion. At the same time, the State of Michigan estimates its current budget deficit at around $2 billion.

The money that Bush is pouring into this war could easily alleviate the financial shortfalls in the budgets of every state in the Union, including Michigan — money that would go to fund school arts programs, college scholarships, fixing roads and highways, job training and unemployment benefits, and providing healthcare for every resident.

Washington claims this is a war of “liberation,” and that “democracy” will be product of the American occupation. The SPMI rejects this argument as pure propaganda. We do not forget that Bush came to occupy the White House through a coordinated campaign to rob African American voters in Florida of their rights. No government that came to power through such undemocratic and illegitimate means could ever export “democracy.”

Because of this, we also reject the idea that the United States has the right to demand “regime change” in Iraq or any other country. It is the sole right and responsibility of the people of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. They are the ones who have suffered for decades under his regime, itself the product of a U.S.-sponsored coup in the 1960s. “Regime change” begins at home — whether your home is in Baghdad or Detroit.

The Socialist Party of Michigan calls on all those opposed to war to join and build the antiwar demonstrations happening across the state in the coming days and weeks. These protests represent the real democracy that we are all taught embodies “America.” They are the main obstacles at the moment to the Bush agenda of endless wars, unionbusting, racist repression and destruction of our democratic rights.

It is the people’s organization and democracy against the capitalists’ police state and misery. One must defeat the other. The SPMI will work with anyone who wishes to achieve the people’s democracy.

Jan 25

Toward a United Left Front in Michigan

Saturday, January 25, 2003

The socialist Left is and has been for decades split and bitterly divided. There are good historical reasons for this and real political differences. But there are also artificially magnified hatreds and deeply grooved, knee-jerk, reactions often based on events that took place decades before, with little or no consideration that an organization’s membership and even programmatic perspective may have changed. We tend to ignore or dismiss each other out of hand without ever or just rarely tuning in. The fact is that left and revolutionary socialists disagree with each other on only a handful of issues and many if not most of these perceived differences are tactical and secondary in nature and not principled ones.

We stand on the eve of tremendous social and political upheaval. The world’s ruling classes are not as strong as they pretend. There are deep divisions and signs of worried apprehension about the fate of their system. The masses of the world itch for revolution. Even in this bastion of imperialism, ever deeper layers of the population are becoming angered and fed up as their lives disintegrate. There are mammoth opportunities for socialists just around the corner, including what has already become a mass anti-war movement.

In this context it is time to dramatically speed up the pace of efforts toward regroupment and unified front cooperation among left and revolutionary socialists. To not thus put aside our customary sectarian and ingrown, inbred rivalries, constitutes a betrayal of our historic duties and mission. We must find ways to work together, not ignoring our real differences, but casting out our contrived and exaggerated ones and emphasizing our commonality.

To this end the Socialist Party of Michigan calls for and proposes:

  • The formation of a Socialist “roundtable” where representatives of all groups and tendencies will come together to discuss possible avenues of mutual effort.

  • Included can be seminars and conferences to discuss and debate political questions, although this by far is not the most important area of interaction.

  • The formation of a permanent united caucus of left and revolutionary socialists, set up to facilitate intervention into existing and upcoming movements, union and strike struggles, peoples’ organizations, etc.

  • The eventual building of a united electoral entity (something like, but not limited to the nature of the Peace and Freedom Party of California) where all socialist groups would have proportional representation in the selection of candidates for public office, all groups agreeing on a basic set of principles, but also free to run and campaign on the basis of their own program. This tactical concession to reality would allow us to pool our efforts and labors for going through the arduous task of petitioning to get on the ballot under an actual party label rather than each group struggling to do so on their own, something none of us are able to do at the present. Some socialist groups will, of course, reject this approach and opt for other or no electoral action.