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Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day

As we celebrate May Day with joy and determination, with dance and song, as we remember its ‘green side’ with Thomas Morton of Merry Mount (Mass.) who erected the first May Pole in north America (1627) dancing with native Americans, runaway servants, ganymedes, antinomians, and former slaves, and as we remember its ‘red side’ with the post Emancipation (13th amendment) struggle for the 8-hour day when at Haymarket in Chicago the police and better business bureau went mental and hanged our martyrs – Albert Parsons, August Spies, Georg Engel, and Adolf Fisher – let us think how the Red and the Green are more than symbols of the reality of the international working class (to coin a phrase!).

In 1984 and in 1985 it was the May Day mobilizations in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, the organization of working peoples in food, auto, mining production, that led to the political linebaughmaynegotiations ending apartheid in South Africa.  The hopes and dreams of that struggle await fulfillment.  Black lives matter: Rhodes must Fall.  Workers must organize.  In 2014 they did so.  These workers contributed to the Green side.  The poisonous gases from automobile “civilization” are somewhat abated by the catalytic converter, and the catalytic converter requires platinum for its effect.  You and I know this as we drive to work, as we board the bus, as we fly across the sky.  But do we know Marikana?

The platinum comes from deep underground a few miles west of Johannesburg.  It is hewed from the geological underground by the labors of thousands by RDOs (rock drill operators)  who in turn are supported by labor in huts, and shacks, and shanties where a humble meal (“mealies”) is prepared.  These workers struck in 2014 basically for a living wage.  They assembled upon common land called ‘the mountain’ and they danced dances of determination, collectivity, and power.  Frightened, the political and union leadership, flush and complacent with neo-liberal compromises, in combination with police authority, and given the go-ahead by unnamed higher-ups, the authorities opened fire and between thirty and forty were killed on the spot, their blood soaking the ground.  Here is the Red side of our struggle.

Let our dances this May Day celebrate determination, collectivity, and power.  Let us think globalization as the unity of red and green.  Let us make this specific.  Let us follow the lead of transport workers in New York or longshoremen in San Francisco.  Let us thank the green producers and the reds who lead our struggle as undocumented workers, as black lives, as incarcerated souls, as the nuits debout people, and as toilers and moilers everywhere. We, the world, need a rest.  Merry Mount.  Haymarket.  Marikana.

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Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@gmail.com

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