THIS SUNDAY, MAY 1, is International Workers' Day. You might have heard of it.This is an important day for working class and progressive movements throughout the world. It has grown beyond just a day to mark the 'simple' defence of workers' rights but now encompasses wider struggles for economic and social justice. In recent years, for example, it has been a focal point for the occupy movement.
While it will be marked elsewhere around the world with rallies, demonstrations and concerts, in New Zealand it will pass by largely unnoticed. Unlike ANZAC Day, there will be no television documentaries screened on the subject, there won't be any live television and radio coverage of May 1 rallies, talkback radio hosts won't talk about International Workers' day for hours and hours, no mainstream journalist will write a newspaper column on it, no young people will asked what May 1 means to them by an eager TVNZ or TV3 reporter.
The political establishment and its media allies prefer that May 1 be emptied of any political importance for ordinary people. They fear that with a wide recognition of May 1 as International Workers' Day, many people would connect the past with the present, and draw strength and inspiration from that understanding. Indeed people would realise that, even in little old New Zealand, we are engaged - or should be engaged -in the kind of common struggles that are being fought elsewhere in the world. It is these struggles that allow our movement to grow, that shape our political tradition.
So we should protest that an organisation like the Council of Trade Unions is going to do what it normally does on May 1 - absolutely nothing. It'll be joined in doing absolutely nothing by the Labour Party. But given Labour's unfamiliarity with working class politics and traditions these days, that's hardly surprising. And could anyone see someone like Andrew Little waving a red flag about? It would just be embarrassing.
And co-leader Grant Robertson's 'revolutionary' demand would hardly set the crowd on fire: ' "What do we want? We want a post capitalist world where the definition of work is redefined when economically practical! And we want it within a reasonable time frame!" Er, thanks Grant, we'll be in touch...
But , seriously, there's nothing funny about organisations that claim to be on the side of ordinary people, especially at election time, but yet don't even have the political conviction or will to mark International Workers' Day. It kind of sums up the appalling state of so-called 'left wing' politics in this country.
The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honour of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.
Rosa Luxemburg, What Are The Origins of May Day, (1894)