How do we celebrate May Day 2021 when it confronts us with major losses and defeats for the US working class?
The minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) remains one of the developed world’s lowest. Capitalists and their allies have blocked raising it to $15 per hour. Amazon workers voted against unionization in Alabama. Many millions of Americans remain unemployed or have recently left the labor force. Accumulated unpaid rents threaten to explode an already massive homeless problem. The US failed to prepare for or contain Covid-19: we have 4% of the world’s people, yet 20% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths. During a year of pandemic, the rich got much richer while most workers suffered losses in income, wealth, security, and quality of life.
As always, working class leaders and militants saw and fought those losses and defeats. They targeted a higher minimum wage, more and safer jobs in a Green New Deal, better pay, affordable housing, medicare for all, and so on. But these militants and leaders are also rethinking strategy by posing some basic questions. Do we keep trying to improve lives within a system that so badly mistreats and disrespects working people? Or should we face that the system (employer vs employee, i.e., capitalism) is the problem and that system change is key to any real, durable solution?
May Day originated to honor the Haymarket Affair in 1886 in Chicago. The working class then combined a struggle for the 8-hour workday with a struggle for change beyond capitalism. Too often since, those two kinds of struggles have not been combined. Distrust, suspicion, and government repression kept them apart.
This “old” problem is more urgent now than ever. The solution is that we must do both. We must strive to improve lives here and now and organize for system change. Either without the other was and is a recipe for failure.
The best way to honor May Day in 2021 is to affirm and commit to recombining the goal of better working conditions with the goal of moving beyond the capitalist system.
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Richard D. Wolff
[email protected] Board Member