Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day!

Hi again, everybody. It's a funny thing but I heard from a FB friend and follower of this blog that she had just started to read my blog regularly when I went on my end of April "sabbatical". LOL. Naturally. That is just the way the universe seems to work. But that's ok. I'm back now.

As for my blog entry for today, it's a funny thing also that the last thing I wrote about was a special day (ANZAC Day) and today is another one (May Day). I don't think my May Day entry will be as long as the ANZAC Day one because I don't really feel like writing that much but since May Day is a holiday of "ours" (originating in North America), it just might turn out to be unexpected long. So consider yourself warned.

Off to google for a second ...

Apparently, the IWW (International Workers of the World) are alive and well in Richmond, Virginia circa May Day 2010. They held a parade there (Google May Day 2010). That caught my interest since I "participated" in a piece of "direct action" once (actually twice) against a former employer. I got the idea from the IWW, in a pamphet entitled "Fire The Boss". LOL.

Briefly, I was working for an employer who I think was having money troubles. He gave me a check that I took to his bank. The teller there was nice enough to tell me that it wouldn't clear (saving me - and the owner who was a friend of the teller I found out - a ridiculously large bank fee for an cashing an NSF cheque).

So, thinking about it from a IWW/"Fire The Boss" standpoint I came up with a nutty idea. I would take the nights deposit one night that was basically the same amount as my cheque. It's a wonder he didn't call the police. I think the reason he didn't was because he knew (even though he refused to admit it - and actively denied it in fact) that I knew that his account didn't have the money when it should.

Eventually we worked it out, I don't remember how, but all was well that ended well. Only it ended up happening a second time when I decided to stop working there. This time he threatened action and I accepted a check, which cleared.

Not something I would recommend anyone doing but I must say (in retrospect) I feel like a good little radical (a good thing indeed - lol) for having the experience. And not going to jail for it. LOL.

That was the beginning and end of my experience with the IWW although I find them interesting and would be interested in learning more about them and the people (including many famous labor activists) who were a part of them in the 1930's for example.

The only other time I actively participated in a labor action of any kind was to attend a May Day event one year around that time. I remember it because one of the people there was taking pictures which kind of made me queasy as it was a bit of a radical event or so I thought although the details escape me as it has been several years since and because it was at about the time I "got sick".

Back to May Day "proper", it started apparently in 1890 which is exactly 70 years ago (see same article on google that talked about the IWW parade in Virginia).

Two people that I would like to bring up at this point are the Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman. I can't say as I know very much about either but I want to share a tidbit or two about each that impresses me.

First, Eugene Debs. He was a leading socialist of his time and was actually defended in his first tangle with the law by Clarence Darrow who had switched sides (he had worked as a lawyer for the railroads that were on the other side of the issue).

He was one of the people to have gone on to help form the IWW. He ran for president 4or 5 times starting in 1900 and ending in 1920, the last time during which he was actually in prison for something like inciting draft dodging. He got something like 6percent of the vote!

When he was finally let out of jail on time served by the President of the United States (the new one as the old one detested him and made sure he stayed in prison) he actually met that President (Harding) at the White House and was mildly praised by him.

One final thing to note about Debs was that in spite of the man he became, he actually came from a rather privileged background. Which only goes to show you that you never can tell where a leader of a cause will come from.

Now for Emma Goldman. Emma Goldman was born in Russia. She came to the United States when she was quite young (about 15 or 16). She escaped being married off by her father before she left but married shortly after coming to America. It was unsuccessful. Unlike Debs, the socialist (as radical as he might have been, although not as radical as Bill Haywood) Goldman was an anarchist.

She was ahead of her time, believing and supporting things like atheism and homo-sexuality. She herself though did have a long-term relationship with a fellow male radical. She apparently wasn't a typical feminist (although she was a strong woman) and distanced herself from the suffragette movement(s) of the time it has been said.

The thing that stands out to me about Emma Goldman is that in a book I read (don't remember what it was exactly) it mentioned that in order to not get her friends in trouble when she herself was in a great deal of trouble at one point she actually took to sleeping in a public park rather than ask to be put up by some of them.

So much the radical anarchist she was actually deported at one time she nevertheless found her way back to North America first through Canada and then back to the United States.

While obviously no scholar of labor history (or any kind of history for that matter) I find these two people of interest when thinking of "modern day" men's and women's contributions to the labor movement. As you can see, while not an activist myself for the most part in my every day life I much admire people who put themselves on the line to forward the labor movement for the working class.

I encourage you to read a little something about each of these people and perhaps others you would encounter in reading their stories. As always, the first source I would encourage your use of is the quite useful Wikipedia.

On a final note, I'll leave you with "a question or few". What do you generally do for May Day, if anything? What about this year? Who are your labor heroes/heroines, if any?



  1. Very interesting...two thumbs up C.A.T.

  2. Clotario Blest isn't my hero, but he was a labour leader in my country. I didn't find an entry in Wikipedia (English version), but there's a site with information about him in English:

    May Day MAY be a good day to stay at home...



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