Friday, May 01, 2009

A morphing May Day

In most of the world, today is the holiday celebrating working people. Not Labor Day in September, but May 1.

It started as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 in Chicago. Police fired on strikers demanding the eight hour day, killing a dozen people. The holiday never caught on here, but in most countries May Day is the labor holiday. According to the Wikipedia, May Day is official in

Albania, Armenia, Argentina, Aruba, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Even a parochial U.S. resident might notice that is a lot of countries.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, May Day is morphing before our eyes. In this year of job losses and a "bailout" that sure looks like a giveaway of workers' taxes to Wall Street multi-millionaires, it wouldn't be surprising if workers were out in protest of government giveaways to the rich. (In fact, that's exactly what happened today in places like Berlin and Athens.) But here's the poster for today's march:

As in much of the country, the low-wage working class -- the people who shower after work, instead of before -- are more and more new immigrants. As such, they have different priorities than the more established workers: they have to worry about getting snatched up in raids looking for the undocumented, about racial profiling that criminalizes their efforts to find a job. They marched in millions in 2006; now the day commemorates that inspiriting upsurge among youthful protesters.

A few hundred folks rallied and marched today in San Francisco. They were young and mostly brown and quite spirited despite a steady rain. Here they have allies.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a gay office holder who has long made common cause with San Francisco workers, caught the mood of the crowd, leading chants of "open borders, open borders".

Our May Day has become the holiday that celebrates our immigrant workers. It's a strange time when Mr. Capitalism himself, former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, admitted that his glorious free-market wasn't working, when we collectively have just put a Black man in the White House, when our low wage working class, of necessity, is focused on nativism and racism as much as on bosses and banks. And none of us quite know what will happen next, what enthusiasm or anger will seize masses of people next.

Gary Younge, Guardian (U.K.) columnist and Nation magazine author, described the general uncertainty in a lecture last night:

The politics of this period are as volatile as the market.

That seems right -- it's a time when we don't know what will happen here.

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