Around the world, on May 1st, millions of men, women, and children will ﬂood the streets of towns and cities, waving ﬂags, and joyously hurling songs to the sky. Laughing, marching, chanting, cheering. All over the globe masses of people will join for one day across national, racial, religious, and linguistic boundaries to celebrate the greatest of supranational secular holidays: International Workers Day.
And they will have this global celebration of Working Class pride everywhere—except in the United States.
Which is, of course, ironic, since May Day was created as a celebration of the struggle of American Workers. International Workers Day is the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when Chicago police ﬁred on and killed workers during a general strike for the Eight Hour Day, the resulting riot, and to memorialize the execution of four Anarchists sentenced to death for not successfully discouraging someone they did not know from throwing a bomb.
That’s right—for all you Lefty hating Tea Partyers who beneﬁt from an eight hour day—May Day commemorates the people who died protesting for it. But the real question is: why is this day so ignored here, in the land that inspired it?
In fact our government went so far, in 1958, as to declare May 1st “National Loyalty Day,” which makes anyone oﬃcially participating in a Workers Day rally disloyally unAmerican. Yes, Republicans and Democrats—the very people who say they celebrate the Hard Working Americans—went that far to divorce hard working Americans from the international holiday that celebrates them.
You’d think they were trying to avoid the concept of the “working class.”
Working class means you work for your living. That’s all. To pay your bills you have a job, as opposed to those who could, if they chose to, live on their investments, inheritance or income property. If you could do that, if your money—or capital—could provide you with a reasonable living, you would be a capitalist. That’s what the word means. A lot of people think capitalist means work hard, but actually it means the opposite—it specifically means they don’t have to work at all. Capitalist mean that somewhere, in some oﬃce, or some coal mine, in some coﬀee shop, or factory someone else is working hard so that the capitalist’s investment will pay dividends. That’s how they make money—from their capital investment and someone else’s work. Oh, some capitalists work very hard—but they don’t have to in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. They do it to accumulate even more money, even more capital.
If, however, you must work—if you are someone else’s employee in any way to pay your bills—you are a worker. If you own a business which you must work at to cover your basic living expenses, you are a worker/owner. A police oﬃcer who’s convinced themselves as they beat back strikers that they themselves aren’t in a union because they call it a Fraternal Brotherhood? Worker. Independent contractor? Worker. Artist? Worker. Doctor, lawyer, butcher, baker, crotchless lacy panty maker? Worker, worker, worker. The vast majority of Americans? workers. You are a worker if you must work so that someone else will pay you, whereby you can aﬀord the necessities of life.
But Americans have been shamed into believing that an admission of belonging to the working class is tantamount to admitting failure, that workers are only workers because they are not willing to try harder to succeed, and that anyone who confesses to being a proud member of the working class is evidently too stupid to get rich in the Land of Easy Plenty.
If you listen closely you’ll notice that very few politicians of either party even talk about the working class anymore. What they do talk about is the middle class—a term that doesn’t even have an agreed upon definition. Why? Because it is a fiction. Middle class is just a worker with a bigger debt, who has been brainwashed into thinking belonging to the working class is somehow a bad thing.
And because they control the media, and the political machinery, this message of the capitalists—that being a worker is something to be ashamed of, that the boss is their best friend, and the union is the enemy, that it is better and somehow nobler to dream of individual riches than identify with your fellow workers and strive to improve the lot of your entire class—is the message we see in every paper, on every station, emblazoned on every billboard and across the web.
Forget that you are just a few paychecks from ruin, forget that what power and protection you do have comes not from the kindness of your boss, but from hard earned labor victories, forget that you have more in common in actual needs with workers from around the world than you do with any member of the American capitalist aristocracy—PLEASE FORGET ALL THAT! Just do not identify with the working class!
(And for those who say this all smacks of Socialism, Socialism simply means that the workers should control the means of production, and one person, one vote. The rest is lies and dictators using the word to try to fool people.)
This country was built by the working class. Proud workers built the roads, cars. bridges, planes—and their fellow working Americans were proud of them. Now, I’m not saying capitalists have no place in a vibrant economy, but we have allowed these bejeweled incubi to convince us that we would be nothing without them, that proﬁt and riches are the noblest objects of pursuit, that worker equals stupid, and that a united working class is the greatest threat to Freedom since, well, ever. Until we can once again proudly stand up and say we are members of the working class we will always be prey to the machinations of those who would use us, swayed by the propaganda that separates us, divided by those who fear us organized, and scattered by those who know that the workers, united, cannot be defeated.
So, workers, celebrate this day, and admit that most frightening of things—that you are in the working class. Give yourself permission to rejoice in yourself and your fellow workers. Find joy in unity, and reject the lie that you and your fellows organized is somehow your worst nightmare. Only the enemies of the workers would despise a united working class, just as enemies of Democracy despise free and fair elections. Here—in the birthplace of May Day, where countless Workers beneﬁt from the blood and struggle of countless workers before them,
Here—where we have daily evidence—from executive bonuses to foreclosures, megamansions to homelessness, golden parachutes to oﬀshored factories, to collapsing mines, to oil spills—of the greed of the elite and the misery it causes,
Here—where that same elite have convinced so many of us that when times get tough it is the organizations of the Workers which are to blame, that when a factory moves overseas it’s the Unions, the Workers, your fault, rather than their own insatiable greed,
And finally Here—where a century of fighting for safer, fairer working conditions and an empowered Working class has given us Workers who obediently denigrate those who ﬁght for them and identify with the Rich,
Here is where we need May Day the most.
So, this May Day, be revolutionary. At least once, say to someone—even if that person is yourself—I am a Worker, and proud of it. Cast oﬀ the brainwashing that denies you are that highest and noblest of persons—a Citizen Worker. This May Day take pride in the fact that you live by your own skill, talent, brains, and/or brawn. Be glad you don’t beneﬁt from underpaying your workers, oﬀshoring a factory, or from the sweat of someone else’s brow. Be glad you are not a mere Capitalist. This May Day, and every May Day after, be proud you are a Worker.
Happy International Workers Day.
Michael Gene Sullivan
Michael Gene Sullivan is an actor, director, playwright, Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of the never silent, always revolutionary San Francisco Mime Troupe. He describes himself as "Just a guy with a dream ... a dream that involves a whole lotta Capitalists being put in prison."