(Note: The proposal here develops ideas advanced by Socialist Alternative’s Alan Akrivos at the Brecht Forum event, Socialism at the Ballot Box. Video here.)
Most on the left are at least dimly aware that Labor Day was originally celebrated on May 1 to commemorate the framing and execution of the Haymarket strikers and that Mayday, at its peak, attracted tens of thousands of marchers in cities across the country. The combination of the iron fist of state repression and the velvet glove of the New Deal ultimately crushed radical labor movements of which Mayday was an integral part, resulting in only traces of it remaining by the end of the last century.
But its spirit could not be entirely extinguished: the largest mass arrest in U.S. history took place on Mayday anti-war protest of 1971, demonstrators brutally apprehended and held Pinochet style in Washington’s RFK stadium.
In 2006, millions of undocumented workers shut down the streets of several cities demanding changes in that draconian and repressive Sensenbrenner Bill, H.R. 4437.
Most recently, in the waning days of the Occupy movement, Mayday again rose from the dead attracting 30 to 40,000 to New York City’s Union Square capping it with a march to Wall Street where over 30 were arrested.
Unfortunately, following the demise of OWS, only a few hard-core activists celebrated in 2013.
Was 2012 a fluke or did it represent an initial, albeit stumbling, attempt to re-attach the future of working class politics to its illustrious past?
This decision is up to us. We can choose to make Mayday again the centerpiece of a new anti-capitalist politics and with the widespread hopelessness now turning to rage at the 1%, 2014 is the year to do it.
The way to do it is by using Mayday to put forward a single demand on the owners and operators of the economy: a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage. The necessary teeth will be provided by our committing ourselves to begin the demonstration at 4 PM, making May 1, 2014 a seven hour work day re-initiating, albeit on a reduced scale, the long standing Mayday tradition of a day without work, or, to put it in political terms, a general strike.
Should 5/1 for 15 not succeed, it should be expanded it to a full day, possibly on election day 2014. A second day could be added on 2015 scaling up to a full week in 2016 with the explicit intention of bringing capital, and capitalism, to its knees, where it belongs.
Just as the eight hour working day was a unifying demand which brought together the strands of a balkanized left leading to the formation of a Socialist Party, so too can the 15 dollar wage provide the foundation for a resurgence of organized, working class political power.
It is no surprise that Kshama Sawant was able to ride the Fight for 15 to victory in November becoming the first elected socialist in a century. And she has made it her top priority now that she is in office. She, and other national leaders and all self-described supporters of “working families”, should be in the forefront of planning to insure that Mayday is returned to its rightful place as a celebration of the beginnings of a long awaited American spring.
JOHN HALLE is Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.