May 15th 2012 · 0 Comments
Uticans participated in both a national and international day of action on May 1st, known otherwise as International Workers Day, or more simply as May Day. Activists in the Occupy Movement in Los Angeles put out a call for a general strike on May Day months ago with hundreds of Occupy groups, unions, and community organizations heeding the call to organize the strike. It was billed as “a day without the 99%” and was viewed by many in Occupy as the first major action to launch a spring and summer filled with actions and grassroots organizing.
May Day was chosen for the general strike for obvious reasons. Even though it has its roots in Chicago, is celebrated around the world as International Workers Day, and in a number of countries is an official public holiday, few people in the U.S. know about May Day.
There is a reason for this national amnesia. The precursor to the American Federation of Labor chose May Day as the day for a mass general strike to enact the eight hour workday in 1886. Socialism and anarchism were very popular with many workers in the U.S. at the time and many of them threw their support behind the strike. Socialism and anarchism were viewed by many as offering an alternative to the highly exploitative capitalist system that created sweatshops, child labor, and had virtually no benefits or safety standards for workers.
Over 100,000 workers walked off their jobs in Chicago and other cities on May Day. Unfortunately, the event was marred by violence when the police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. More strikers came out for peaceful demonstrations in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. A bomb was hurled at the police by an unknown assailant. The authorities never investigated and it is still believed by many in Chicago to this day that the bomb thrower was an agent provocateur.
Several policemen and an unknown number of workers were killed. Many anarchist leaders of the strike were put on trial for conspiracy. The judge said that “anarchy was on trial” and made everyone know that the strike leaders, all of them anarchists and many of them immigrants, were being punished for their political beliefs. Four anarchists were executed by the State of Illinois, one cheated that fate by committing suicide in jail, and two others were later released from jail.
The message the government sent was clear: if you stand up for your fellow workers and offer different ideas for a more egalitarian life, you will pay the ultimate price.
In honor of the Haymarket anarchists May Day has been celebrated every year around the world. It was our nation’s original Labor Day, but the powers that be have tried everything to wipe our memory clear of this past.
President Cleveland made Labor Day in September an official holiday and President Eisenhower made May first Loyalty Day. Everything changed in 2006, however. The largest strike in U.S. history occurred when millions of undocumented immigrant workers, their families, and supporters flooded the streets coast to coast in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and New York City had some of the largest demonstrations in the “day without an immigrant.” Occupy picked up the torch and this May Day, although not as large as the strike in 2006, had much of the same spirit. Demonstrations, marches, and celebrations were held all over the country, and many smaller towns and cities like Utica publicly celebrated May Day for the first time in years.
Tens of thousands marched in New York City where 99 pickets were held at various workplaces and banks. The NYPD was busy in the days leading up to May Day, rounding up half a dozen Occupy activists in “snatch squads” reminiscent of the “Red Squads” that existed in police departments during the Cold War that rounded up Leftist political activists.
The Occupy activists had their houses raided, or were simply picked up on the street and thrown into unmarked vans by plainclothes police, and were sent to the station where they were questioned about May Day and Occupy. This did not deter Occupy Wall Street as thousands took to the streets. Groups ranging from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance to Domestic Workers United marched down Broadway alongside Occupy Wall Street.
In San Francisco, Occupy activists cancelled their original plans to blockade the Golden Gate Bridge and opted instead to swell the ranks of organized labor at various picket sites. Prisoners in Ohio staged a hunger strike on May Day for reforms in their prison. A chilling yet less severe replay of the original May 1st, Clevelanders cancelled May Day after an FBI engineered entrapment case forced the AFL-CIO and Occupy Cleveland to cancel the events.
National media had a field day airing the story of an Occupy/anarchist plot to blow up a Cleveland area bridge. The minor fact they left out was the man that hatched the bomb plot and provided the explosives was a paid FBI informant. It is unclear yet if this plan to further discredit Occupy came from Washington DC, but it fits very neatly into a historical trend to disrupt and destroy political movements on the Left.
Occupy Utica’s May Day events kicked off in the early hours of the day when banners were dropped on the Burrstone Road overpass that stated: “Another World is Possible – Happy May Day” and “Bail Out Utica, Not Wall Street!” A midday demonstration was held in front of Representative Hanna’s office to bring light to his support of such anti-democratic legislation as CISPA which would drastically curb net neutrality and put restrictions on the internet, and NDAA which would, among other Orwellian measures, enable the U.S. Military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens.
A rally was held in the late afternoon where Occupy Utica was born: Liberty Bell corner. A small but spirited crowd of fifty attended, including union workers, MVPC workers, high school students, and small business owners.
A literature table was set up and many passersby and people waiting for the bus stopped to chat about economic justice, improving conditions at work, and Occupy. The speakers included Orin Domenico of Café Dominco’s and The Other Side, local labor activist Debra Hagenbuch, Editor-in-Chief of The Utica Phoenix Cassandra Harris Lockwood, Oneida County Legislator Harmony Speciale, and Occupy Utica activists John McDevitt, Trinh Truong, Sean Robertson, and Brendan Maslauskas Dunn.
All of the speakers had different messages but the common theme was taking control in our community, and fighting for the future of our city and our country by building grassroots community power.
By Mark Ziobro