Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day, Mandela & We Are All Terrorists

May first is celebrated all over the world as labor day except in the United States. This may be seem like another aspect of U.S. parochialism (like the fact that we still buy milk in gallons and measure distance in miles) except for one thing: the events behind May Day took place here in the United States. In 1886, immigrant workers all over the country were demanding better working conditions. Their chief demand was that the workday be shortened to eight hours. On May 3, police fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Chicago killing four and wounding many more. The following day, as police were harassing the stragglers at a meeting called to figure out a response to the police violence, an unknown demonstrator threw a bomb at the police line, killing one. The police fired into the crowd (gathered at Haymarket Square) and another worker was killed. Though the police could never determine who threw the bomb, five prominent labor activists were sentenced to death and four of them were hanged for the crime. Soon after, global outrage at the actions of the U.S. government inspired the celebration of May Day, a day of global solidarity with U.S. workers.

This story came into my head today as I read about Nelson Mandela being on a list of terrorists and possibly denied entry to the United States. Mandela, of course was a terrorist according to FW De Klerk and the administrators of apartheid before him, and according to Ronald Reagan who backed the apartheid regime to the hilt. But within a few years of Mandela being branded an un-reformable terrorist, he became the celebrated first Black South African head of state.

Without Mandela and the movement for which he was a spokesperson South Africa would still be an apartheid state. Without the workers who were murdered by the U.S. state in 1886 and their struggle, who knows if we would have eight hour days, weekends, let alone basic education and healthcare? Whatever gains working class and colonized people have made over the centuries have been made by those whom the state brands as terrorists.

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