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The Real Labor Day

Stephanie W. Wang

May 1 is the international working class holiday but the U.S., “upholder of democracy for the people and human rights for all,” is one of only two countries that doesn’t recognize this workers’ day. After all, how can the U.S. possibly support the commemoration of the struggle for a cause so “radical” as the eight-hour work day? On May 1, 1886, the Knights of Labor organized strikes in the U.S. and Canada calling for an eight-hour work day.

However, in Chicago, the police inexplicably attacked striking workers, killing several and inciting a demonstration the following day in Haymarket Square in protest of this unjustified police brutality. Naturally, when a bomb exploded towards the end when the police began to order dispersion, the trade unionists were easy scapegoats for a state eager to destroy the labor movement. Eight were charged, all being sentenced to death despite the dearth of evidence and a “trial” where their real crime was fighting for basic workers’ rights. Sadly, just as in Illinois more than a century ago, the labor rights struggles continue here and around the world as the global economy has brought about globalized oppression of the working class. With international conglomerates sprawling to countries at an increasing rate, the race to the bottom has alarmingly accelerated. The likes of Monsanto have forced farmers off of their land and into an urban hell of meager wages and probable unemployment. From that point, brand names like Nike and The Gap as well as the ubiquitous superstores like Wal-Mart can get their merchandise produced at the factories with the lowest standards for maximum profit because the workers are desperate enough. Members of the proletariat naturally become more alienated from the production process and more expendable as well. With that “economies of scale” argument accepted as yet another unsubstantiated economic truth -- is cash crop production really more efficient than a diversified small farm? Has anyone bothered to check? -- the proletariat are caught in the vicious cycle of human devaluation. Can they possibly afford to organize for basic standards in the workplace and adequate wages and benefits? The answer is a bleak no and there are no signs of change.

So what can you do if labor injustices on the global scale seem too much to tackle? Well, Star Market right down the street is crushing its workers’ attempts to form a union. J. Sainsbury, the parent company of Shaw’s supermarkets, acquired the Star Market chain. Subsequently, the Star Market workers have being trying to organize a union under the United Food and Commercial Workers, the same one that covers many Shaw’s workers.

Unfortunately, the company has resorted to underhanded, illegal actions resulting in a formal complaint by the National Labor Relations Board. What has the company done? It has told workers to not speak to union organizers. It has monitored workers’ organizing activities. It has subjected workers to propaganda against the union with meetings and videos. Workers in other Shaw’s union stores have even had their health benefits taken away as an example of what happens to those who fight for their basic workers’ rights.

The freedom of association and protection of the right to organize as well as the right to organize and collective bargaining are core standards set forth by the International Labor Association. I beseech you to not let Star Market, a place of patronage for most members of the MIT community, blatantly violate these rights and deprive its workers of the basic standards of living. Tell Star Market, Shaw’s, and J. Sainsbury how you feel about this class struggle in your community rather than aiding the oppression with your compliant silence. It’s not fair to deny rights to those who need them the most, who must organize with others to have a collective strong enough voice.

Every day is multi-national corporation day in the U.S. Even the supposed Labor Day in September has evolved into another excuse for department store sales and other venues of consumerism. On this May Day, show your solidarity with the working class around the world who continue to be silenced. You can start with the Star Market oppressors in your own neighborhood. If talking to the Star Market management doesn’t work, remember that it leases the store space from MIT. Let May Day be a reminder that despite the best efforts of corporate America, the class struggle will never be forgotten.