Who would have thought?
The self-sacrifice of a street vendor in Tunisia sparked the rage of a nation including general strikes from independent unions which successfully ousted the Ben-Ali dictatorship. The garment workers of Mahalla and their national day of action catalyzed the seeds of revolt in Egypt. Then with millions in the street and Hosni Mubarak obstinately ensconced in his compound, mass industrial action from workers across sectors and across Egypt broke the stalemate and ended a 30-year reign of oppression. Popular revolts have spread throughout the region.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched extremist attacks on public worker union rights for the benefit of corporate elites, the example of the Egyptian and Tunisian achievements inspired workers to actions with a scope and spirit unseen for decades in the U.S. labor movement. The persistent occupation of the Capitol and enthusiastic solidarity from far and wide proved that the sense of self-worth and fighting spirit of the American worker is alive and well. A General Strike is being discussed by workers in states around the country, not as a historical relic, but as a practical, effective, and needed tool to deal with problems at work and in the political system.
As the attacks on public and private sector unions escalate, the racist scapegoating, exploitation, and deportation of immigrant workers continues apace. Right-wing legislators in states across the country are pursuing the Arizona show-me-your-papers racial profiling model which undermines the liberty and offends the dignity of every working person. Employers enrich themselves for years on the hard work of immigrant employees only to cynically raise status issues when confronted with demands for stolen wages or for decent working conditions. Yet still, immigrant workers of color are routinely demonstrating the courage to lead some of the most profound and hard-fought labor campaigns in the United States.
On May 1, 2006, millions of immigrant workers and their allies poured into the streets from coast to coast with tremendous spirit and energy to give May Day life again after decades of slumber in the country in which it was born. Regrettably, many corners of the labor movement shied away from this watershed moment which featured large numbers of workers actually striking their jobs without even the protection of union membership. The achievement of International Workers Day in 2006 has yet to be duplicated.
The combination of existential challenges and historic opportunities facing workers indicates only one appropriate response on May 1, 2011: everyone together in the streets against the attacks on immigrants, public and private sector unions, and all working people. A new network of over fifty leading worker and community-based organizations, May Day United, has been hard at work building just this type of dynamic May 1st under the banner of "A Day Without Workers" and a call for, "No Work, No Shopping, and No School-Related Activities." May 1st falls on a Sunday this year which should help facilitate the participation of many working families.
Organizations all across the country including the powerful San Francisco Labor Council are mobilizing for "A Day Without Workers" on May 1st. Here are some excerpts of the inspiring resolution the Council passed on April 11th (you can read the full resolution at: http://on.fb.me/h1QlOO):
WHEREAS the attack of Governor Scott Walker on Wisconsin's public workers and their labor unions is an attack on every U.S. working family;
WHEREAS immigrant workers continue to be scapegoated and discriminated against in Arizona and across the United States to the detriment of every worker;
WHEREAS isolated efforts at reform have failed to stem the growing tide of corporate power and the harm it causes to hard-working men and women across the nation;
WHEREAS the most powerful tool working people possess to improve our wages and working conditions and defend our dignity against attack is a General Strike of all workers;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the San Francisco Labor Council endorses "A Day Without Workers" on May Day 2011 and supports the right of affiliates to engage in work stoppages, sick-outs, and any other solidarity actions on May Day…
The economic crisis and relentless attacks on working people cry out for a bold May Day befitting the powerful thirst for liberty demonstrated by workers from Mahalla to Madison.
Please come on board the organizing around "A Day Without Workers" this May 1st. You can find May Day actions in your community at www.MayDayUnited.org and you can post actions that are not yet listed. The May Day United call to action is also available at the website and you can distribute it widely through your networks. Finally, you can pledge your participation in "A Day Without Workers" and encourage your friends to do the same at www.facebook.com/maydayunited.
Together we can build a powerful workers' movement on May Day and every day to reclaim our dignity at work and wrest our political system from the multinational corporations.
Daniel Gross is the director of Brandworkers, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. Brandworkers is a founding member of the May Day United network. The full list of May Day United organizations is online at http://maydayunited.org/about/