[OPE-L:5472] May Day political economy controversies

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Tue May 01 2001 - 08:05:27 EDT

*** Happy May Day! ***

I. Historical Background

Long before there was capitalism, there were
spring-time holidays at this time of the year
(just as long before there was Christmas, etc.
there were holidays in many other societies at
about that time each year.) Such holidays were
based on agricultural cycles and tied to
movements of the Sun and the Moon.

May Day, though, has its modern origins in the
*8-HOUR DAY MOVEMENT*.   This movement,
which was pre-dated by the "10-Hour Day
Movement" in the US in the 1820's and 1830's,
had begun in the period after the Civil War
and reached its climax in the MAY 1, 1886
general strike.  The 1886 strike had been 
organized by an infant (and very different!)
American Federation of Labor (AFL), which
began efforts at organizing with a resolution
passed two years before at the 1884 convention.
The 1886 strike (the "first May Day")  included
350,000 workers with the main center of strike
activity in Chicago.  In the period afterwards, the
8-hour-day was won by approximately 185,000

Just days after the "first May Day", on May 4,
1886, there was the infamous HAYMARKET
AFFAIR in Chicago.  A number of working-class
leaders (primarily anarchists and anarcho-
syndicalists) were arrested and tried (4 of them 
-- Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel -- were
hanged on November 1, 1887; 3 more were given
long prison sentences; 1, Lingg,  supposedly, 
according to the police, committed suicide).

at its founding conference in 1889, that passed
a resolution establishing May 1 as a day of
celebration by the world working-class.

With the coming of McCarthyism, "LABOR DAY"
was created as an ALTERNATIVE to May Day.
Labor Day had the advantage, from the standpoint
of conservative business, government and labor
'leaders' of not having an association with 
radicalism.  In the U.S. May Day is not a holiday 
for  most workers. This is probably true for most
other countries in the world as well. 

II. Some Controversies in Political Economy

1. In the U.S. the 8-hour-day has STILL not
been won.  What would be required for that
struggle to (finally!) become successful?

2.  if the working day is intended, but workers
are paid "time + 1/2" for overtime (i.e. working
in excess of 8 hours) to what extent (if any)
does this extension of the working day still
represent an increase in ABSOLUTE SURPLUS

3. There is some controversy among labor
historians about the major stimulus for and
demands of the 8-hour-day movement. One
group of historians argue that the 1886
May Day strike sought a SHORTENED
WORKWEEK.  The belief here was that the 
AFL leaders and some other radicals of the time
believed that unemployment had been increased
context, the industrial revolution, and that a
mandatory maximum of 8 hours per day labor
would help create and protect workers' jobs. 
As we all know, the demand for a short workweek
is still a major demand by trade unionists
and there continue to be major struggles over it
(e.g. the early 1980's strike by the German
Metalworkers Federation, I.G. Metall). A belief
of this movement has always been that
labor-saving technical change under capitalism
results in additional macro unemployment. Is
that the case?  What other variables and
developments have to be taken into consideration
when addressing this issue?

4. if  the working day could not be legally 
extended past 8 hours per day, how many 
MORE JOBS would be created in the U.S.?
How many internationally?

5. Another group of labor historians argue that
the more significant source for the 1886 May
Day strike was the demand by workers for
additional LEISURE TIME.  They point to a
popular slogan of the time: "8 hours for sleep,
8 hours for work, 8 hours for what we will".
Instead of being a defensive movement (to
protect and create employment) this is a slogan
that concerns RIGHTS.  It also highlights the
fact that workers are more than what capital
conceives, i.e. they are human beings with
families, aspirations and dreams. This demand
for additional leisure time also has a long tradition 
in the working-class. Perhaps it is best epitomized
by the title of a pamphlet by Paul Lafargue:
_The Right to be Lazy_.   Many view working-class
struggles for increased VACATION TIME as
part of this tradition.  Note, though, that unless
production is stopped (at it almost is in certain
European countries, like Italy, in August), that
capitalists have to hire (at least temporary,
part-time) workers to fill-in for those who are on
vacation. Thus, increased employment is a
consequence of winning this demand even if it
isn't the main goal. How important are these 
struggles today?  What other contemporary 
struggles seek to EXTEND the rights of workers
rather than DEFEND existing rights?  

6. From the standpoint of the Protestant work
ethic and capital, laziness is an anathema. From
a working-class perspective, is it good to be lazy?
Are there still ways under capitalism in which
workers can effectively assert their right to be
lazy and create spaces for laziness? 

What are some other political-economic 
controversies associated with May Day?

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Jun 02 2001 - 00:00:05 EDT