[OPE-L:5478] Re: May Day political economy controversies

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 02:17:53 EDT

Thanks Jerry, for the May Day background and provocative questions. In
Perth we celebrated by forming a human barricade, preventing access to the
Stock Exchange Building.  The police ran over us with horses, and I got a
nice bruise on the back to show for the day's efforts.  I felt the whole
event was largely publicity or "show", however, and a far cry from the
historic struggle for an 8 hour day!  For one thing, workers on the
barricade were few and far between - the workers were the people trying to
get into the building to work....  

Who attends these events in America and Europe?  Is it the workers?  Or is
it students and the unemployed mostly?  How much input do working class
organisations have into protests like the one at Seattle?  Here the
environmental parties (like the greens) and community and/or student groups
do most of the organising, with a little photocopying help and leaflet
distribution courtesy of the CP and DSP (democratic socialist party).  My
guess is that most Australian workers are largely indifferent to May Day,
and this indifference is the most important impediment to advancing the
cause...  But it may be a different situation in other Australian cities.
Perth is said to be the most isolated city on earth, and this cautions
against generalisation, perhaps.  Do others have any thoughts, May Day
experiences to share?


>   *** 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    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   The 1886 strike had been  
>organized by an infant (and very  different!) American Federation of Labor
>(AFL),  which  efforts at organizing with a  resolution passed two years
>before at the 1884  convention.    included 350,000 workers with the main
>center of  strike   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    A number of  working-class
>leaders (primarily anarchists and  anarcho- syndicalists) were arrested and
>tried (4 of them    were hanged on November 1, 1887; 3 more were  given  
>supposedly,  according to the police, committed  suicide).   Later, it was
>the SECOND  INTERNATIONAL, 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      is  not a holiday    most workers. This is
>probably true for  most other countries in the world as well.      II. Some
>Controversies in Political  Economy      ==============================   
>has STILL  not   What would be required for  that struggle to (finally!)
>become  successful?     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  ABSOLUTE 
>SURPLUS VALUE?   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  sought a SHORTENED   The belief here
>was that the   AFL leaders and some other radicals of the  time believed
>that unemployment had been  increased by TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE, i.e.in this
>context, the  a mandatory maximum of 8 hours per day  labor would help
>create and protect workers' jobs.    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   What other variables  and developments
>have to  be taken into  consideration when addressing this issue?      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   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   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:    Many
>view  working-class struggles for increased VACATION TIME  as   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     What
>other contemporary   struggles seek to EXTEND the rights of  workers      
>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           

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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