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May Day fest celebrates workers

By Erika Fricke Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 02, 2001

Most of the U.S. work force labored Tuesday, but at the Inkworks print shop in West Berkeley a banner of Che Guevara billowed across the balcony and members of Berkeley’s worker cooperatives celebrated May Day with the rest of the world.  

“Around the world it’s International Worker’s Day,” said Innosanto Nagara a member of the Berkeley collective Inkworks. “We thought this would be the perfect day for us to celebrate worker culture.”  

Fourteen East Bay collectives and nonprofits co-sponsored the event, with food, live entertainment, and security (thanks to the Suigetsukan Martial Arts School.) 

The contemporary incarnation of May Day as a labor holiday began in commemoration of U.S. laborers fighting for the eight hour work day. Four protesters were hung after clashes in Chicago that left police dead. The international labor movement  


martyred the four activists, and at the Socialist conference in Europe in 1889 May Day was announced an international holiday in honor of the martyred Americans and international workers. 

Throughout the world on May 1 workers spend the day at festivals, marches and rallies. 

Paradoxically, May Day is not a national holiday in the United States. Instead, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is the national holiday recognizing labor. Government recognition of the September date for Labor Day began in the mid 1880s; five states passed legislation recognizing Labor Day in 1887, two years before the 1889 European conference. 

But for many collectives and progressive non-profits the historical links to the struggles for workers mark May Day as an important holiday regardless of governmental recognition. Nagara said that although Tuesday’s event was mostly “for fun” they hoped to expand the celebration next year. “It’s actually to reclaim May Day as a workers holiday,” he said. 

Katya Min from Speak Out!, a nonprofit that books events for progressive speakers and artists, found a deeper irony in the fact that the original May Day martyrs sought an eight hour work day, but many will have spent Tuesday working overtime.  

People have the ability to work only eight hours, she said, “because some men were hung and died for it.”  

Although the economic boom of the past years has left many with large pocketbooks, she said, they don’t realize that quality of life “is actually decreasing when you think about the number of hours you put in.” 

The issues are especially salient now, as a movement towards international free trade competes with national protections of workers rights. Felicia Gustin of Speak Out! said that one of her speakers, a worker in Comayagua, Honduras, marched for workers rights in sweatshops on May Day. 

On an apple green iMac images of violence and solidarity at May Day events around the world flashed across the screen. Switzerland – a crowd fills a plaza. Germany – tanks rumble down the street. South Korea – A young man beats lifts his leg high to kick a blue van. Hungary – bodies fill the screen, marching behind a large pink banner. Japan. East Timor. London. South Korea. 

Bill Mayer, from Inkworks, watched the pictures rotate. The images were supposed to help participants keep in mind the worldwide struggle for labor . For Mayer, they did. “It reminds us what this is about,” he said.