May Day 2015 I was sitting at my desk in the Fort Greene observatory. I knew today was an important labor holiday, but I wish that I was working and said so yesterday to my old boss from the Diamond District.
"I wish I could give you a job, but there's no business," apologized the 82 year-old diamond dealer and he was right. No one had walked into the exchange. Without customers there are no sales and without sales there was no money for wages.
"The rich have taken all the money and don't know how to spend it." I had been a economic major in college and believed money was better spent by many than saved for a few.
"I guess you have to blame it on someone." Manny was an old curmudgeon, but I had counted on him for a job since 1989.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That you worked all your life and never prepared for a moment like this."
"Who could prepare for the the Greater Recession?" People my age were out of work in the millions.
"You were was lucky to have had a job all those years."
"And now I'm not lucky." I had worked for Manny as a salesman on and off since 1990. There had been some good years. None of those were recent.
"And you can't find another job."
"I only know diamonds and writing."
"And you have never made any money on your books."
"You have that right and now everyone around the world are grinding out a subsistent living. Workers have no rights."
"And neither do I."
"It wasn't always that way. Once there was a marriage between labor and capital. Years ago unions protected the workers. Union instituted the 40-hour week, the end to child labor, and other workers’s rights, but since Reagan broke up the Air Controllers Union the GOP has tried to destroy every advance in workers' rights."
"The Democrats aren't much better."
"We're on our own." I shrugged and made to leave.
"Where are you going?"
"To the 169 Bar in Chinatown. They have $2 beers."
"Have a good May Day."
I showed him the clenched fist and headed to the subway, thinking that I had belonged to three unions; IBEW for the telephone company, IBT driving taxi in Boston, and the union of drifters.
I believe in the power of labor and every May 1 the workers of the world march to show their solidarity.
Originally the day was a pagan holiday for the first day of spring, although in a different month than the present Julian calendar. Peasants adherents to the old religions danced around the Maypole and the Catholic Church suppressed the practice by naming May the month of Mary.
As a child at parochial school the nuns paraded us around the church with the girls wearing white dresses and flowers in their hair. The boys were dressed in white jackets and slacks. Parents snap snapshots of their angelic children with Kodak Brownie cameras.
Years later we abandoned this pious procession to march in the May Day protests against the Cambodian Bombings.
Washington, Kent State, and Nixon talking to the protesters.
To combat the rising anger of the workers, the government supported an eight-hour day in 1886.
Big business wasn’t happy with this new law and workers across the country staged a series of protests. Anarchists congregated in Chicago's Haymarket Square. The gathering was peaceful until someone threw a bomb into the police ranks, killing one officer. In the ensuing violence more died on both sides.
The subsequent trial of eight anarchists was a farce, but evidence revealing the involvement of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the bombing didn’t prevent the death sentence for seven of the accused.
Public pressure for leniency forced the governor of Illinois to commute the capital charges against two ‘conspirators’.
On the eve of the execution Louis Lingg supposedly offed himself by exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth.
The remaining four, Spies, Parsons, Fischer, and Engel were publicly hung, but not before they sang the Marseillaise, the anthem of the international revolutionary movement.
All eight were exonerated in 1893 and May 1 became a rally day for labor throughout the world, although the USA government called it Loyalty Day.
Thailand gives the day off to workers, 70% who have decent jobs say they are happy with their present situation. Others are less so.
In honor of the Haymarket martyrs I’m taking the day off too.
Sadly it's not by choice.
Power to the people.