“Rad•i•cal 1. of or going to the root or origin.”
This Tuesday is International Workers Day, a day celebrated throughout the globe in honor of workers and the labor that builds our world.
Workers throughout our history have organized and agitated for the fundamental right of participation, from the early republic, when citizens without land demanded the right to vote, through reconstruction, when Blacks and Latinos were elected to Congress, to the civil rights and liberation movements of the 60s and 70s that demanded self-determination for all minority groups and working poor whites.
Principle in this history is the period of the mid to late 19th century, when workers throughout the industrialized U.S. fought for their right to take part in the decisions of not only their work places, but their entire industries, rejecting the notion that their hard work meant higher profits for their bosses, and liking wage labor to a less brutal form of slavery. They wanted to own their own labor, but also take part in determining the social good that their labor would go to fulfill.
From this period in our nation’s history–from the hard work and dedication of normal Americans seeking a better life–come the great gains that workers now-a-days consider the normal aspects of a good job: the 8 hour work day, Social Security and pension benefits, the outlawing of child labor, the right to organize, and more. These were hard fought battles, won by the “radicals” of their day. People fought and died for the gains that future generations of workers enjoyed. And from deep within this struggle International Workers Day was born.
People for Peace and Justice and Occupy McAllen invite all to join us in celebrating International Workers Day Tuesday May 1 at 7PM at Archer Park in McAllen.
The theme for this year’s event: What do we owe to radicals? What did they envision that we benefit from today? The eight hour day, Social Security, ending child labor and more. We should be proud of radicals for valuing life, liberty, and having a say in the decisions that affect our lives.
But it isn’t just the improvements that we’ve gained that we should celebrate. Rather it is their resolve to go to the source of inequality and injustice and uproot it—that is what we should celebrate most.
The fight to end child labor is a perfect example of how much we’ve gained—and how far we still have to go. From the mid-1800s on, organized workers raised their voices against child labor. Factory owners tended to favor the use of children, because they worked for lower wages and contributed to higher unemployment among adults. One workers’ publication of the time explains:
Clearly these two facts work to the great advantage of the capitalist class and the detriment of the working class. The first will accordingly favor child labor, while the latter opposes it. A large reserve army of unemployed is essential to capitalist profit. With it the capitalist overcomes discontent and reduces wages. It naturally follows that he will protect and stimulate the development of anything tending to increase that reserve army. Child labor will accordingly be fostered and promoted by him in factory and legislature.
The solution to the radicals was not merely an outlawing of child labor. Indeed, such regulation would be part of the solution. The root of the problem, however, was the tyranny of the bosses, who “fostered and promoted” child labor and other such ills for the purpose of profit. The real problem, then, was the economic system that put profit for a few ahead of the good of the many. The real solution was to end the tyranny of the bosses and replace it with worker participation, direction and control.
The arguments against child labor call to mind the present-day debates over immigration. Working class citizens feel the pressure of unemployment and seek to decrease competition with immigrant labor. Just as in the 1800s the bosses used child labor to “overcome discontent and reduce wages”, many bosses today prey on the dire situation of immigrant workers seeking to provide for their impoverished families back home, employing them at lower wages and without benefits native workers are accustomed to.
One of the definitions of “radical” is “of or going to the root or origin.” Radicals get to the root of the problem. Radicals are the dreamers, the visionaries that see past the confines of the present system toward the possibilities of a brighter, sustainable and more just future.
While one who looks at the surface level might see the problem as immigrants and immigration, and therefore seek to stop immigration, one who looks to the root of the matter sees the real problem as the unnecessary competition between workers for the access to the means to fulfill their needs that work provides. The solution, then, is to end tyranny in the work place and replace it with cooperation between workers–workplace democracy.
Democracy is a radical concept because it gets to the root of tyranny and declares: We have a right to have a say in the decisions that affect our lives. The Occupy movement has grown from our fundamental desire to participate in the issues that affect our lives and has become the declaration of our right to do so.
We must get to the root of the problems we are facing today in order to bring about a more just future. Join a May Day rally near you and become a radical.
International Workers Day in McAllen, TX
Join People for Peace and Justice and Occupy McAllen in celebrating International Workers Day and thanking past radicals for their vision and contribution to creating a better world for all of us.
We will meet at Archer Park in McAllen for guest speakers, conversation, and open mic starting at 7:00PM. Dr. David Carlson from the History Department at Pan Am will make a ten minute keynote speech at the rally on the origin of May Day. We will chat, we will sing, we will celebrate, and we will resolve ourselves to continue the fight to uproot inequality and injustice and create a better world for all.