BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It’s good to see May 1st making a comeback in the United States as a day of labor and related rights. It’s sad that the post WWII efforts by the political right in the country have succeeded in largely erasing the origins and importance of that date from popular memory.
In 1886, there was a strike in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, peaceful, until police were sent in to break it up. Somewhere along the line, a bomb was thrown and police died. They opened fire and demonstrators died. It’s not clear who threw the bomb, some say anarchists, others, a police agent. It became known as the Haymarket Massacre, or Haymarket Riot, depending on one’s political bent, I suppose. Haymarket “Affair” seems to be a neutral solution that Wikipedia is using.
Thus did May 1 become a day for labor throughout the world. But political pressures in the U.S. led to the creation of an alternative date, the one now celebrated in September. This of course suits the interests of the moneyed classes because it dims the connection between the sacrifices made to get decent working conditions and analogous problems we confront today.
Luckily, with the immigration related demonstrations of the last few years being held on May 1 and now, with the Occupy movement and others joining them on the streets this year, attention is being refocused on that date. With the focus comes greater knowledge of labor history. Ultimately, this leads to elevated awareness and activation. Coupled with the increasing burden felt by the working classes, this may portend a nascent labor rights movement.
No doubt some readers are rolling their eyes at all this. But, a century ago, the Armenian communities of the mill towns where our “bantoukd” men worked, through the efforts of the Hnchagians and Tashnagtzagans, were intimately, necessarily, involved in the labor movement of the time. Today, it is again time to plunge in. And, worker no longer means just an illiterate grunt in a shoe factory or steel mill. Even doctors have started forming unions. It’s the only way to withstand the class warfare of the richest class of society.
Whether referred to as nobles in the time of feudalism, robber barons/trusts/bosses a century ago, or the corporate elite/1% of today, the economically most powerful relentlessly pursue the accumulation of ever greater wealth, at everyone else’s expense. Unfortunately, to not stand up to this onslaught also hurts Hye Tahd because it disempowers us and decreases our capacity to pursue our goals.
Luckily, some of us have already connected with the Occupy movement and others with labor. It was heartening to see the SEIU present at April 24 commemorative activities. Jump in. Our efforts will pay of both for us as individuals, workers, and citizens and as members of a nation with a huge, unfinished agenda of liberation.