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Celebrating May Day
MAY DAY has historically been a day of international working class solidarity and struggle. This year May Day takes on a more urgent and significant role for the present generation of workers and young people.
May Day demonstrations will give international solidarity to the oppressed Palestinians being butchered by Sharon's Israeli Defence Force. There will be support for the ordinary Afghan people paying the ultimate price for being ruled by reactionary warlords and bombed into oblivion by Bush and Blair's war machine. And of course now they want to continue this madness into Iraq.
In Europe, workers will be celebrating the magnificent 13 million strong general strike by Italian workers which paralysed Italy and struck a blow against Berlusconi's anti-working-class policies (See pages 8 and 9).
They will also be expressing solidarity with the workers and poor in Venezuela who came on to the streets in their tens of thousands to thwart a right-wing military coup, inflicting a major defeat on US imperialism.
The support and solidarity demonstrated on May Day is an important morale booster for those in struggle. But striving to replace the capitalist system - which is the root cause of the problems facing the working class internationally - requires more than protests on May Day; it needs the day-to-day organisation of a socialist alternative.
It is the working class, because of their potentially powerful role in capitalist society (they can bring a halt to the capitalists' means of production, distribution and communications, as the Italian workers so graphically demonstrated) that must lead that struggle, armed with the most powerful of all weapons - a socialist programme.
In the Middle East for instance, there can be no imposed solution from the capitalist politicians in Israel and the West nor any way forward from the reactionary leaders of the Arab regimes.
It means the difficult task of building the foundation of genuine socialist parties that will campaign for a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East with guaranteed democratic rights for all national and religious minorities.
In Britain, particularly in the trade unions, the day to day fight back requires the uniting of those trade unionists who oppose the Blairite policies of their union leaders and the patient building of effective and democratic 'broad left' and rank-and-file organisations that will fight to defend pay and conditions and advocate a socialist programme for the trade union movement.
Politically this should include support for the 'Free the Funds' campaign to disaffiliate unions from New Labour and back socialist, trade union and community candidates which support union policy.
At the same time we need to agitate and organise for the establishment of a new, mass party of the working class to replace the openly pro-capitalist New Labour and once again give trade unionists a political voice and representation.
The growing anti-capitalist movement will again be reflected this May Day, with anti-capitalists joining up with trade unionists to demonstrate in London and elsewhere. The predominantly young anti-capitalist movement is an extremely positive development internationally.
It brings together on mass demonstrations hundreds of thousands of protestors infuriated at the impact that globalisation is having on the environment and the lives of millions of people around the world.
Globalisation has allowed the capitalist class internationally to exploit and oppress on an unprecedented scale. While divided in their greed to extend their own markets and fears of influence, they are nevertheless united in the need to drive down the living standards and working conditions of those who actually produced the wealth in society - the working class.
A handful of giant multinational companies control four-fifths of world output and more than two-thirds of world trade. Monopoly capitalism means gross inequality; the assets of the 200 richest people are more than the combined income of the poorest 2.4 billion.
The anti-capitalist movement can play an important part in exposing the horrors of this system. But a positive programme for change is needed to end those horrors.
Tinkering with or piecemeal reform of the system cannot end poverty, inequality, war and environmental destruction. These are rooted in the very nature of this class-ridden system, which is based on exploitation, inequality and the ruthless pursuit of profit.
The History of May Day
THE ORIGINS of May Day lie in the great struggles of the American trade union movement in the 19th century for a shorter working day.
In 1885, one of the workers' leading union organisations, the Knights of Labour, planned rallies and demonstrations for the following May in order to put pressure on the employers to introduce an eight-hour day.
Subsequently, on 1 May 1886, in the first national general strike in US history, 500,000 took part in demonstrations across the country. As a direct consequence, tens of thousands saw their hours of work substantially reduced, often down to an eight-hour day with no loss of pay!
However, not all employers were prepared to cut hours. The International Harvesters in Chicago, for example, used armed police to break through a picket line, killing several workers in the process.
At a protest meeting the following evening a bomb was thrown into the police ranks killing seven police officers and injuring a further 66. The police turned their guns on the workers wounding 200 and killing several others.
In the ensuing trial it was never established whether the bomb was thrown by an 'anarchist' or a police 'agent provocateur' but eight union leaders were put on trial with four of them subsequently executed.
Two hundred thousand people lined the streets of Chicago for their funeral and international protests followed this scandalous frame up and judicial murder.
From the solidarity shown to those heroic American trade unionists, 1 May has grown to an international day of solidarity for the working class.
THE IDEAS of socialism have historically been an important feature of May Day struggles and protests.
Socialism is about planning production for need not profit. It's about working-class people, the majority of society, owning and controlling the economy and democratically deciding how resources should be produced and allocated for the benefit of all - in an environmentally sustainable way.
This would be very different from the top-down, undemocratic planning which existed in the bureaucratic Stalinist regimes of the ex-Soviet union and Eastern Europe.
Genuine socialism would mean ordinary people having maximum control over every aspect of their lives.
Based on co-operation rather than ruthless competition for profit, privilege and prestige, socialism would lay the basis for an end to poverty, oppression, war and the destruction of the environment.
Globalisation has meant that capitalism is economically more integrated than any time in history. This means that the struggle to transform society has to be an international one if it is to be successful. The Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). The CWI is organised in 36 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed people against global capitalism and to fight for a socialist world.
For more details including CWI publications write to: CWI, PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) is an international anti-capitalist youth organisation. It has groups in many different countries, including Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Northern and Southern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, Netherlands, France, South Africa, Kashmir and Nigeria.
ISR is a democratic, broad organisation campaigning against capitalism, against war and for socialism as an alternative to the capitalism system.
For more details write to ISR, PO Box 858, London, E11 1YG
Tel: 020 8558 7947
In The Socialist 26 April 2002: