May 1st, also known as May Day or International Workers’ Day, brings the labor movement—socialists, communists, union people, and others—together in solidarity for the plight of workers everywhere. This informal and unrecognized international celebration has something for everyone on the Left. In South Carolina on Wednesday, 10,000 public educators marched on the state’s capital on Wednesday, while in Washington D.C., about 50 activists gathered at a local park.
May Day’s origins harken back to the 1886 Haymarket riots in Chicago, where police officers and civilians were killed during a labor rally. Decades later, European socialists and communists adopted May 1st as the day for workers’ struggle, but also as a propaganda tool to prop up their totalitarian rule.
Now, every year, demonstrations are held around the world to advocate for various workers’ rights, which can include anything from raising the minimum wage to calling for a radical overhaul of the economy and means of production. While teachers in South Carolina were demanding smaller class sizes and higher pay, D.C. organizations at plastic tables in Meridian Hill Park discussed abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and Marxism.
At the May Day International Worker’s Day march in DC pic.twitter.com/ddE6TH5WXQ
— Madeline Orr Osburn (@madelineorr) May 1, 2019
D.C. activists wore red shirts with Marxist Che Guevara’s photo shouting “One, two, three, f–k the bourgeoisie,” while public educators in South Carolina wore red shirts of the RedforEd movement, and sang “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
— Michal Higdon (@MichalHigdon) May 1, 2019
Michael Golash, May Day festival attendee, said he has been a May Day organizer in D.C. for decades, and noted the evolution of impetus behind the informal holiday over time.
“In the 1930s, May Day protests focused on the fight over the Scottsboro Boys … and later focused on the fight against fascism,” he said. “Some of the largest May Day marches in the 1980s were in South Africa where people took to the streets to end apartheid.”
2020 Democratic candidates also got in on the May Day action, tweeting out their support of the teacher protests and International Workers’ Day.
I stand with South Carolina teachers who are walking out for fairer pay, smaller classroom sizes, duty-free break time and full funding of the state’s promises to students. We need to treat educators with respect and dignity. #AllOutMay1 https://t.co/K8RpgUarw9
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 1, 2019
I’m the proud husband of a teacher and know first-hand the impact of their work. Teachers around the country and in South Carolina deserve to earn a living wage and have smaller class sizes so that America can continue to out-educate and lead the world. #AllOutMay1
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 1, 2019
On International Workers’ Day, we must fight to build a nation where the dignity of work is respected. Where everyone can keep a roof over their head and pay the bills. We must stand up and protect the rights of hard-working Americans.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) May 1, 2019
On #MayDay, I’m thinking about our country’s long history of workers making their voices heard and demanding change—just like the Lawrence, MA mill workers did over a century ago. The Bread and Roses strike inspires me to this day, and reminds us to keep fighting for our rights. pic.twitter.com/bKOiA3Tsx9
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 1, 2019
But on the same day that organizers gathered in the capital of the wealthiest and freest nation in the world to celebrate socialism, Venezuelans protested food shortages, electricity cuts, and political violence under their socialist leader President Nicolás Maduro. When I asked attendees of the International Workers’ Day festival in D.C. how they reconciled their beliefs with the crisis in Venezuela, the focus always shifted away from the country’s failed socialist policies to the issue of U.S. intervention.
Members of a local chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (who asked not to be named) concluded that socialism is “always a work in progress,” and that most of the opposition to policies in Venezuela is stemming from Venezuelan-Americans who fled the country.
Golash, 76, suggested that the failure in Venezuela is due to falling oil prices. “The socialist experiment in Venezuela was to try to figure out a way to collaborate with capitalists. So Chevez—as along as the price of oil is very high, they were able to get a lot of revenue.”
Other groups in attendance included Iranian-Americans with posters displaying the faces of political prisoners in Iran, and Sanctuary DMV, a volunteer group that works with migrants and illegal immigrants.
While communist and socialist regimes continue to oppress workers and entire nations to this day in places like China, Russia, North Korea, and Venezuela, free nations share May Day as a politically expedient day of protest for any cause on the Left. Whether you’re a socialist, communist, unionized teacher, totalitarian dictator, or running for president of the United States, International Workers’ Day has evolved over time into a holiday available for the popular political issue of the day.