New Orleans The first May Day in the United States saw 300,000 people hit the streets in solidarity with the issues of workers. Fast forward to 2014 and there was not a single note in any of the local papers I read daily or the national ones about any notion of May Day even existing for workers in America.
But May Day still has meaning and power. The Times did mention the fact that 40,000 protestors defied the Turkish government’s ban on any May Day parades to go into the square and stand talk in the face of water trucks and gas canisters.
The highlights of my May Day, surprisingly, were on Skype.
I spoke with Suresh Kadashan, ACORN International’s organizer in Bengaluru, about our street vendors’ union’s five kilometer march between the markets and the government house where our members could demand critical improvements and protections for our members. This was going to be our coming out party so to speak with 1500 of our members hitting the street. I can hardly wait to see the pictures!
Later in the day I gave the Skype keynote, who knew there could be such a thing, to a special May Day greeting of a new labor community alliance, called appropriately, Put the People First, that was meeting in Memphis at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Believe me, it’s not the same as being there, but at least I could see some of the folks in the camera eye of the computer, and every once in a while hear static, which actually turned out to be applause.
Put the People First is loosely connected to the growing phenomena in the South of coalitions coming to terms with the need to stand up for progressive values and issues despite the array of forces opposing change. In Georgia “Moral Monday’s” have gotten attention, and a similar effort on Tuesdays in the Carolinas has also stepped up and into action. Put the People First combines unions of university workers, bus drivers, fast food, and others workers along with civil rights groups, environmental efforts, and community efforts like those of my friends with the Vance Avenue Collaborative, still celebrating a recent victory in preventing the destruction of the last public housing complex in Memphis, the Foote Homes. In March this alliance assembled more than 350 people in Nashville for a protest at the state legislature raising the issues of minimum wages, worker protections, healthcare, and education. The coming months are also filled with action plans.
Here’s a salute to everyone in Istanbul, Bengaluru, and, yes, Memphis, and everywhere else where workers and others continued to stand up for justice around the world on one of the few days we can still claim as our own without fear of commercialization or commodification to speak clearly about our solidarity and keep our fires burning.