By: John Palameda, Red Phoenix Correspondent Chicago
In the United States, those of us who are leftist workers have a vexed relationship with this labor day, the first Monday in September. The day was a refuge for the American state and compromising union leadership from the May Day riots, namely Haymarket, and has since then become a state-recognized and confined day off for all workers in the US, matched with the expected sales and marketing campaigns.
Yet, Labor Day in September did begin with mass demonstrations of laborers with the Knights of Labor, AFL, and other unions in New York City in the last two decades of the 19th century. The first Labor Days were celebrated with picnics and demonstrations, finished with rousing speeches from early labor leaders. And recently, there have been preliminary attempts and rumblings to bring the red spirit of May Day to our official holiday in the US.
If there ever is a time to revisit Labor Day with this perspective, it is now. Workers across the country face mounting attacks post-Janus and in the turbulent post-pandemic job market. As we’ve reported, trans workers are having their workplace rights attacked, tenant eviction protections have elapsed, inflation is on the rise, women’s rights are under attack, and anti-working class right wing terror is on the rise.
Resurgent unionism has nonetheless risen in these conditions. Countless strikes organized at the workplace from fast food fights for 15, to graduate student unions, to rideshare strikes emerged in 2019, which led to the huge growth in union efforts at some of the largest companies in the US, including Starbucks and Amazon. These movements have come to define the growing leftist movement in the United States, despite corporate attacks and sabotage. The DSA Convention, largely panned for its procedural “difficulties” and reformist perspectives, nonetheless clearly declared democratic unionism to be the beating heart of the American left. This growing movement demands greater organization than what currently exists, and workers have risen, often autonomously, and against the reformist democratic party and moderate union leadership, to that challenge. Bringing the militancy of our May Day marches to this day in this context, reflects the general turn in American left strategy to bring our politics to the American worker, to merge our spaces, and make left spaces less exclusive and distinct from the lives of American workers.
In this spirit, we mark Labor Day not half-heartedly, but with the full strength of our voices as American workers. Our labor did not, as moderate union leaders will no doubt say on this day, “create the middle class,” as if our identity as workers is a transitory state between poverty and wealth. On this day we remember the millions of US workers, many of them immigrants, who made the American labor union the most militant movement in recent American history, and we appreciate the progress we are making in reforging that movement. We look to our emerging working class leaders in our locals and nationally. In the face of increasing attacks on immigrants and our unions, we say emphatically that, in the words of David C. Coates, radical union labor organizer: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”