May 1st has lent itself to history as a day for the workers’ struggle. In Chicago, the labor movement fought for and won an 8-hour work day legislation that was supposed to go into effect on May 1 1867. Before that the work day could last as long as 16 hours. When May 1 came, the bosses ignored it, the law and government wouldn’t enforce it, and when workers went on strike the police crashed down on them hard. Thus the status quo remained in place. In 1886, another 8-hour workday movement arose and called for a general strike on May 1 of that year. 750,000 workers across the country (400,000 in Chicago alone) rose up and demonstrated in the streets. It led to days of protests, rallies, and then violence reigned down on May 4 when a bomb went off in Haymarket Square in Chicago and police opened fire. Eight “anarchists’/martyrs were eventually executed for crimes that they may or may not have committed. Since then, May 1 has been a day to remember the struggle for workers’ rights.
This past May 1st, the Occupy Movement called for a general strike in the US. The rights for workers still on the forefront, they took to the streets to bring their message of the 99% to the 1%… again. From New York to San Francisco to Spain, Turkey, and the Philippines, marches and rallies went on during the day pushing the fight for fair wages, jobs and equality. While it’s hard to argue with those goals, some protestors did have run ins with the police. Tear gas was fired in Oakland (again!), there were shoving matches in Philadelphia and tense standoffs in New York and San Francisco. Despite that, the majority of events were peaceful efforts of civil disobedience.
My big confession for the day is I was not part of any of the May Day demonstrations, nor did I show much solidarity with the movement. While many other Occupiers went on strike, I went to my job–which is to try and find full time work. While I solidly a member of the 99%, I am also a part of the 8.9% of that 99%–the percentage of Americans nationwide who are unemployed. I’ve been underemployed for almost three years, been on unemployment for more than a year and am still looking for a paying full-time job–which is a full-time job in itself. This is a struggle that while I know I’m not alone in, I am still isolated by it. I’m tired of having to answer the question “why are you having trouble finding work when you have two degrees?” with the phrase “I don’t know.” Part of me wants to tell them to ask the over 1,000 companies that decided to go with someone that was a closer fit for them, because I haven’t got a clue. It’s hard enough to continually answer “why do you want to work here” without feeling desperate. While I know I have friends and a community to help me out, I know I am in this by myself for the most part.
So were does that leave me in all this? Is there a civil disobedient way to win this struggle against unemployment? No there isn’t. I do know I have to do two things: work towards a job and hope for a miracle. The miracle is not a job in this economy; that’s the struggle to keep moving towards and I do that every day and will continue to do so. The miracle I am hoping for is change. Not a change in the economy but a change in attitude. A miracle to change people’s greed into altruism. A miracle that the wealthiest 1% will realize that exploiting the rest of the 99% will not make anything easier for anyone in this country or the world. A miracle that we ordinary citizens will realize that we ARE a part of the 99% and NOT billionaires in training and quit working against our own self interests. A miracle that will stop creating more industrial complexes and start creating meaningful work. And a miracle that can change the hearts of the heartless and allow justice to flourish. Only then will things turn around. Only then will people once again feel proud of what they do and produce, and not feel like lemmings. Only then can the workers’ struggle be won once and for all. This is the miracle people are working for, pushing for. It’s why people were marching on may 1st and may still have to march for many for May 1sts to come.
Right now all I can offer is the prayer my best friend Will taught me ages ago and it now finally makes sense: “God just give me one more day; I’ll handle the rest.”