This year’s May Day celebration, in Wichita Kansas, at the Peace and Social Justice Center, was not as well attended as past years have been. It is hard to say why the crowd was smaller, whether the time and date was bad, the format or just bad luck. Only about 20 to 30 people showed up. The Peace and Social Justice Center has been hosting these get-togethers for several years now.
May 1 is an international workers holiday that celebrates labor victories in the US. In early 1886 unions throughout the country fought for an eight hour work day. Work days could be 10 to 12 hours a day. By 1889 the various unions had won the fight for an eight hour day and a holiday had been established to celebrate this labor victory. Since that time workers around the world celebrate May 1 as an expression of their international solidarity and shared political aspirations for the freedom of working people.
Those in attendance, this year, were enthusiastic and took part in a round table discussion. Stuart Elliott, local writer and activist for Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was the MC for this event. Elliott asked those in attendance questions for discussion.
Elliott: The first question is; what is your favorite labor song?
Rannfrid: Mine is a Norwegian song Take Each Other in the Hand and Hold On. It’s a simple labor song.
Kayla- Little Mouse Chewing Wire.
Janice: Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Bill: Union Maid.
Otto: Halleluiah I’m a Bum.
Elliott: Mine is Redwing. It is the original melody to Union Made from 1890.
Russ: Take This Job and Shove It.
Elliott: Which is more prevalent, wage theft or street crime theft?
(All those in attendance guessed it was wage theft.)
Elliott: Any questions about unions?
Rannfrid: Why can’t I just join a union?
(Several people pointed out that the Industrial Workers of the World will let almost anyone join.)
Bill: How did we get to the point where union officials make as much as CEOs.
Otto: I hear from a lot of people who complain that union people make too much money. They say it’s not fair that union members make more money than they do. I’d like to turn their arguments around and say “wouldn’t you like to make as MUCH as they do?”
Bill: It’s like the welfare argument that poor people get a free ride. They think union members don’t earn their money.
Janice: There has been a prison strike in Alabama, recently.
(RT-The strike was organized inside St. Clair County Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama by members of the Free Alabama Movement. The group – loosely made up of inmates at St. Clair and other Alabama penitentiaries – alleges that prison jobs initially designed to help fill convicts’ days and give them a sense of pride behind bars have effectively been turned into a kind of slave labor for Alabama officials.)
Bill: That’s right? The inmates get such a low wage that it is the equivalent to slavery. It’s a tiny fraction of the minimum wage. I wish more unions (their members) would get fed up with the treatment they get.
Jim: Labor membership has declined to about 11%. But the unions are not to blame. I think globalization has a lot to do with it.
Bill: Globalization has created a real cut throat mentality that people have today.
Rannfrid: Some students in Norway manage to get sponsors for a trip to some of the sweat shops that make such American clothing as the Gap. They went to Bangladesh were they had that big fire. They saw firsthand how those workers are treated. After they returned they were on a panel where a bunch of corporate big shots tried to argue them down. They had firsthand information on how people in those countries live as opposed to the lies perpetrated by the corporate big shots.
Otto: I wish we still had a news media that actually covers news like that. We used to have some real coverage. It seems we don’t get any real news anymore and a lot of international issues get ignored. I have to go to the BBC or RT TV to get any real and critical news.
(Others warned that the BBC is starting to get as bad as the US news media.)
Kim: Via Christi is contracting out their house keeping department so they can cut down on the wages they pay. The House keeping employees are getting a $2-an-hour decrease.
The evening rapped up with announcements of different political actions members of the Peace and Social Justice Center were involved with, such as a petition to remove criminal penalties for possession of Marijuana in the City of Wichita.
The May Day observance helps people here in Wichita feel a sense of solidarity with working people throughout the US and in other countries as well.