Despite heavy rains and an unseasonable chill, May Day, otherwise known as International Workers Day, sparked celebration across Boston. On Wednesday, May 1st, a series of marches and rallies brought together Boston-area immigrants, anarchists, communists, occupiers, labor activists, and others. The day’s message was one of standing up for the power of workers, standing in solidarity for immigrant rights, and, more broadly, challenging capitalism. Massive May Day demonstrations also took place in other parts of the United States and around the world.
The day’s events started at 7 am with a rally of roughly forty people in Boston’s Financial District, outside the Bank of America. Occupy protesters ate food, marched, and held signs proclaiming “General Strike!” and “NO shopping, NO school, NO banking, NO chores, NO work.”
Even though May Day originated in the United States when workers struggled for elementary rights such as the 8 hour day, it is more celebrated by workers around the world. May Day in the United States has suffered from being associated with radicalism for the last century. Starting in 2006 May Day was chosen by mostly Latino immigrant groups in the United States as a day to strike for immigrant rights, calling it “A Day Without An Immigrant.”
To Occupier Peter Bedard, it was important that May Day was being reclaimed by activists as a way to challenge injustice. “It is a people’s holiday that’s not welcome to official control of any kind. There’s an element of popular revolt to it.”May Day actions in Boston were planned by the working group – General Strike Occupy Boston (GSOB). GSOB was inspired in part by last year’s General Strikes on the West Coast which shut down the ports. To plan for mass actions, GSOB joined forces with other groups like the Boston May Day Coalition (BMDC), formed in 2006 to highlight May Day celebrations in Boston as a day working class solidarity and rights for undocumented workers. In recent years, BMDC has spearheaded organizing rallies and marches taking place in immigrant communities. Nicole Johnson of the GSOB says “We’re trying to reach out to people who haven’t been on the streets with us. Now is your time to be a part of it.”
Around 11 am, nearly 100 protesters gathered at Copley Square and marched through Boston to Government Center. The march was largely anarchist-led, with other groups participating, like the Industrial Workers of the World. A single communist red flag swooped and waved in the wind.
A heavy police presence followed the marchers as they made their way across Boston. The crowd’s call-and-response chanting filled the streets: “War machine?” “Shut it down!” “Capitalism?” “Shut it down!”
At Government Center, roughly 250 people gathered to listen to speeches advocating workers’ solidarity and the overthrow of capitalism. Veterans for Peace and GSOB member Al Johnson called “for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American and Allied troops from Afghanistan.” Johnson’s remarks elicited widespread cheers from the crowd.
Later in the day, Occupy joined with immigrant protesters at LoPresti Park and marched to Glendale Park in Everett. The march began with less than 150 people, but swelled to between four and five hundred by the time they reached Everett. Chants could be heard in English and Spanish, including “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!” (The people united, will never be defeated!).
Speakers at Glendale Park included Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman, who spoke about the importance of immigrant labor, invoking the group’s historic role in in the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912. Toleman said, “the bosses thought those workers who spoke so many languages would never get together.” The strike ended with the workers’ union recognized. Talking on the importance of union and immigrant unity, Toleman said, “If you stand with us, we will stand with you!”
We Come to Bury Capitalism, Not to Praise It.
To finish the day, protesters came back to Copley Square to hold a funeral procession for capitalism. Before the procession began, more than a dozen people sang the revolutionary communist anthem, the “Internationale,” which commemorates the struggle of the Paris Commune of 1871 and calls for a better world. At the song’s conclusion, clenched fists were raised and a single chant repeated: “Workers of the world unite!”
As May Day ended and the rain let up, capitalism’s funeral set forth. Pall bearers carried the coffin, which was topped by giant puppets in the form of a mourning billionaire and his wife. Others held images representing the Haymarket martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti, two Boston-area anarchists executed in 1927, following their controversial and highly politicized trial. The procession wended its way through wealthy neighborhoods and shopping districts before dispersing back at Copley.
Summing up yesterday’s action, Al Johnson said that “The important thing this year was to bring Boston in line with the international movement, to have leftist militants and others see our struggles here as part of an international struggle even if our actions were, for now, more symbolic and educational than powerful blows at the imperial system.”
However, May Day fell far short of a Boston-wide general strike. One participant reflected on the day’s generally low turnout. Kyle Forrester said, “The bad weather certainly played a part, but you can’t just call for a General Strike without the numbers. You need a critical mass to pull one off.
“This is a reminder that you are not in control” — May Day elsewhere
Large marches and rallies broke out in over a hundred cities across the United States. Oakland saw 5,000 turn out for rallies and marches, during which activists and police clashed in the streets resulting in more than 30 arrests. In Los Angeles, upwards of 10,000 protesters joined employees at Los Angeles International Airport to deplore the hiring of non-union workers. Ten were arrested for blocking an intersection near LAX.
In New York City, nearly 30,000 people – members of Occupy Wall Street, organized labor, and immigrant groups – converged at a rally at Union Square. Banks such as Chase and Bank of America were targeted by protesters’ chants and pickets throughout the day.
Across the world, enormous protests were seen. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Havana, Cuba to mark May Day and celebrate the achievements of socialism. Bolivian President Evo Morales marked May Day by nationalizing foreign energy companies in order to reclaim Bolivia’s natural resources from companies that are not serving the country’s needs. In Chile, May Day protests saw security forces police shoot demonstrators with water cannons. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed a law reducing the work-week to 40 hours.
Thousands of workers protested in the Philippines, Malaysia, and East Timor demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
More than one million went on strike in Spain, a country suffering high unemployment and austerity at present. Major protests were also held in Greece, France, and Great Britain, with crowds expressing public outrage over the growing gap between rich and poor as well as government-imposed austerity. In Germany, which is relatively unscathed by the global recession, more than 400,000 still came out for May Day rallies.
May Day 2012 in Boston
“Internationale” in Spanish