FROM READERS: Occupy COMO will celebrate workers' rights on May Day

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 | 5:25 p.m. CDT

James Ginns has been involved with Occupy COMO since November.

May Day, otherwise known as International Worker’s Day, has been a traditional focal point for the labor movement internationally. It commemorates a rather ugly strike (the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago) that fought for, among other things, an eight-hour day. Over the decades to come, labor won many victories that people now take for granted: the eight-hour day, the two-day weekend, paid holidays, and the minimum wage.  Even if today not all these concepts are followed, there’s a general feeling that one has been cheated or subjected to a heavy burden when they aren’t. So what happened to this movement that accomplished so much?

It’s no secret among people who follow politics that union influence has been on the decline, and anti-union legislation has left it on the defensive. However, the 2011 Wisconsin state protests over Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill and the subsequent call for a recall election show organized labor isn’t down for the count. But the events in Oakland on Nov. 2 demonstrate union organizers have dropped the ball. 

After the break up of Occupy Oakland through excessive use of force by Oakland police made national news Oct. 25, Occupy Oakland declared its intention for a general strike on Nov. 2. That gave the group eight days to launch a general strike that effectively shut down the port of Oakland. It did coordinate with local unions (that urged workers to take the day off) but accomplished much of its work through grass-roots organizing, public outcry and social media. If, in 2011, it takes a group less than 2 months old eight days to organize a successful strike, organized labor is definitely not on top of its game — and that could change.

I have neither the time nor expertise to discussion labor’s rise and decline. From anti-union legislation like the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which established strict rules on strikes) to the challenges globalization poses for organizers, labor faces many obstacles. It may be, however, that its greatest threat is internal. Labor unions typically have some method of electing union leaders (or union bosses) who then make the negotiations that the rest of the members (the rank and file) have to abide by. Is it any wonder that union leadership has at times been thinking more about using that power to enrich itself than the wages and benefits of its employees? How well would Jimmy Hoffa’s mob connections have gone over (with) unionized truckers if the rank and file had to make this decision by consensus?  Is an organization whose members use the phrase, “Jimmy Hoffa sent me” really going to make much impact? Strategies for worker’s rights need to be rethought. To this end, Occupy COMO member organizers are preparing to host May Day activities at noon in front of city hall. We need to celebrate the successes for workers rights in the past and have a discussion of where to go in the future.

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Mark Foecking April 26, 2012 | 9:32 a.m.

"So what happened to this movement that accomplished so much?"

Like many other movements, it accomplished its goals and became increasingly irrelevant. Globalization is undercutting wages and benefits, and many workers are finding it's more important to have a reliable job than one that may pay better, but may be lost due to globalization or public budget cuts.

Union membership doesn't have the benefits it once did in terms of pay and benefits, and it is a cost to the employee that many feel is no longer worth it. The perception by an Occupier that union bosses enrich themselves at the expense of the rank and file should be a wake up call to union organizers.

Also, few groups larger than a small intentional community can efficiently make decisions by consensus. Rank and file could never come to an agreement. This is part of the reason that Occupy remains marginal. Without leaders and unified goals, Occupy will remain a largely irrelevant movement.


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 26, 2012 | 8:56 p.m.

("The Future Belongs to Communism

For the May Day, 1923, edition of the Weekly Worker, C. E. Ruthenberg wrote: "May Day – the day which inspires fear in the hearts of the capitalists and hope in the workers – the workers the world over – will find the Communist movement this year stronger in the U. S. than at any time in its history.... The road is clear for greater achievements, and in the United States as elsewhere in the world the future belongs to Communism." In a Weekly Worker of a generation before, Eugene V. Debs wrote in a May Day edition of the paper, published on April 27, 1907: "This is the first and only International Labor Day. It belongs to the working class and is dedicated to the Revolution."

The world is nearer to Communism today. We are living in a more advanced period now. Capitalism has swung downward and is progressively moving in that direction. The sharpness of its own contradictions is making its ability to carry on more difficult. The workers are growing in political consciousness and are engaged in a counter-offensive which is gaining in scope and depth. The oppressed colonial and semi-colonial peoples are rising and challenging the rule of imperialism.

In the Soviet Union the workers will review on May Day the phenomenal achievements of the building of Socialism. In the capitalist countries May Day will be as always a day of struggle for the immediate political demands of the working class, with the slogans of proletarian dictatorship and a Soviet Republic kept not far in the background.")

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