May Day Musings
Few working people in North America seem to have any idea of what May Day is all about. Contrast this with the millions who march in Europe or South America. Then again, back in the late 1940s tens of thousands would turn out in cities like Vancouver or New York. What happened to May Day since then?
In the 1940s non-Communist radicals like the IWW were few in number and the most militant unions were influenced by members of the Communist Party. The ruling class whipped up hysteria about Communism through its propaganda outlets. This led to the purges and witch hunts known as MaCarthyism, which saw the destruction of militant unions like Mine Mill, the Canadian Seamans Union and the right-wing takeover of the IWA. Anything associated with radicalism, like May Day, was branded as Communist and immediately fell into the category of the demonized.
Of course, May Day was the common property of the labour movement and the left in general, not just the Communist Party. With the eclipse of the purged Communists, the social democrats could have moved in and filled the May Day vacuum, but they did not. Instead, they did the Mr. Block routine, running away with their tail between their legs whimpering, "Please don't hit me Mr. Boss. I ain't one a them there Commies."
The social democrats betrayed our class not only by abandoning May Day, but other working class symbols like the red flag and the singing of the International. At the same time they eliminated the working class press and classes in economics and history for workers. Up till this point, a working class counter-culture was in the making. Social democracy, like the beaver of legend, castrated itself when faced with an enemy.
The working class symbols, education and press were left to the Communist Party and the insignificant and ignored groups to the left of it like the IWW and the Socialist Party of Canada. Thus, working class culture and traditions were branded as "Communist" , slated for obliteration and thrusting down the Memory Hole by the ruling class and its presstitutes and shills.
The capitulation of the moderate left was not just a result of cowardice. Early in the 1950s the social democratic left wing was, through some very shady tactics, marginalized within these parties. Class struggle was supposed to be over according to the leadership, and the party no longer just for workers and farmers, but for everyone, including the plutes. Workers were now supposedly middle class since they could afford to buy some of the trappings of what was at one time the petty bourgeois life style. The business unions ate this up like candy. Of course, this capitulation came around and bit them in the ass, when twenty years later the bosses declared total take-no-prisoners class war against workers, unions and social democracy.
People who came into adulthood in the 1960s and beyond, would thus have no knowledge or recollection of May Day or any other aspects of working class history and culture. This was especially the case in the USA which explains some of the bizarre antics of the American New Left. There has been some improvement since that time, but thanks to the reluctance of most mainstream unions there is still no mass awareness of class traditions.
The sad history of May Day in North America shows one thing plainly – an injury to one, is really and truly, an injury to all. The ruling class, by isolating and destroying the Communists, destroyed the non-Communist left as well, in fact, that was the idea in the first place. The IWW can stand proud and tall for we did not fall for this trick. Even though most Wobs had little use for the Commies, the IWW refused to take the Taft-Hartley oath, whereby you had to swear that as a union official you were not a member of the Communist Party. We lost members over this, indeed ceased to be a functioning union for many years, but it was far better to go down for a principle than whimper and run away.