May 2, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | May Day: an [Un]Forgotten History

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To the Editor:

Labor Day, the first Monday of September in the United States, marks a day dedicated to celebrating the contributions of the working class to the nation’s social and economic well-being. Historically, Labor Day was celebrated on the first of May until, fearing association with socialism, the U.S. changed May 1 from “International Workers Day” to “Law Day,” a holiday that promotes the obedience to the law and loyalty to the state. Labor Day was therefore moved to September, stripping away any undertones of socialist sentiment and relevant context. As a result, we have grown to associate the day with the end of summer and the first day of school, often passing over the history and significance of the working class struggle against capitalist exploitation.

Although May Day is not celebrated in the U.S., where it is dismissed for its association with communism, the tradition actually has its roots in the States. In 1886, nearly 100,000 workers in Chicago went on a peaceful strike to demand an eight hour work day. However, what began as a peaceful rally in Haymarket square turned into bloodshed on the third day of action, when a bomb was thrown into the crowd, ensuing chaos. Police fired into the crowd, resulting in the deaths of four civilians and leaving dozens of others wounded. Ultimately, the struggle led to a convention, in which an eight hour work day was finally declared. Shortly after, May Day, or International Workers’ Day, was declared as a holiday to be celebrated on May 1, as a commemoration of the Haymarket Affair.

In cities and on college campuses around the globe, May Day is considered a day of action and solidarity. It is a day in which community organizations mobilize and flood the streets to lead strikes, demonstrations and other creative actions. Supporters acknowledge the struggle of the working class, and the ways in which this struggle is bounded to their movements, such as Black Lives Matter, struggle against police brutality, ICE raids and deportation, gentrification, the struggle for Indigenous and immigrant rights, workplace equality for historically marginalized groups, environmental justice for minority communities. It is a day of action that demonstrates that all struggles, different in context and manifestation, are bound by the idea of collective liberation: that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The intersectionality of these issues is especially important considering that one of the radical organizers and speakers who shaped May Day was Lucy Parsons, a woman who was Mexican American, African American and of Native descent. Her role as a woman of color in the labor movement and in this day helps us to frame contemporary working struggles in a multifaceted and intersectional manner that advances the goal of collective liberation.

In the spirit of the anniversary of May Day, we students would like to thank the employees and staff at Cornell. We extend our gratitude to the workers who make it possible for the campus to function, and who go out of their way to brighten the days of the students, even when it is not always reciprocated. We want to take the time to appreciate the experiences of all workers on campus, and acknowledge the ways in which different characteristics such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, nationality, ability and age affect the experiences that workers have.

We are aware that college students make rowdy customers and neighbors on weekend nights, that our presence drives up local housing prices so that most employees cannot afford to live nearby and that we as a demographic contribute to the corporatization of Cornell and the gentrification of the Ithaca community. Too often are the employees and other community members excluded from conversations about social justice on campus. Additionally, as students, it is our responsibility to hold Cornell accountable for its labor practices on this campus as well as the workers whose lives it influences abroad.

We acknowledge the immense labor needed to help an organization like Cornell, with over 20,000 students, to continue to run every day, and recognize that this labor often appears to go unnoticed and unappreciated. However, we do notice and we do appreciate everything that campus workers do. We also want to acknowledge the vast amount of student workers, whose status as workers often goes ignored, even when they may be primary providers for their families while maintaining a full college course load.

International Workers Day is a day to celebrate labor around the world, and to acknowledge that today’s conditions are only a result of worker action and protest — that human lives were the price for the benefits we take for granted today, such as an eight hour workday. May Day serves to remind workers around the world of the power that they have and of the impact of their voices, as well as a reminder that the struggle against exploitation and inequality is not yet won. As students, we must continue to organize and mobilize as part of the labor movement in order to strive for the collective liberation of all.

Ana Jimenez ’18

Katy Habr ’18

Elizabeth Chi ’18

Abraham Araya ’19

Amy Methven ’19

Xavier Eddy ’19

Christopher Hanna ’18

Carunya Achar ’18

2 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | May Day: an [Un]Forgotten History

  1. If not for capitalism, Cornell and many other Universities would not even exist. Even a cursory examination of countries where socialism is the predominant orthodoxy reveals true oppression, poverty, corruption and misery.

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