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Taking Back May Day: What to Expect on the Nationwide Day of Rallies, Strikes and Actions

Organizers and activists have planned direct actions and mass rallies, marches and blockades, as well as mutual aid and concerts to include as many people as possible.

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In that spirit, leftist luminaries like Frances Fox Piven and David Harvey are speaking alongside educators from around the city, on subjects from “Horizontal Pedagogy” to computer science, immigration relief to yes, radical recess. They'll be teaching anyone who stops by, bringing their own classes, taking education out of expensive institutions and bringing it back to the streets.

“It's the same May Day strike idea, where we're striking against but we're also striking for. Withdraw your labor where you can, but let's also together create something new. Let's take our labor back and make it what we want,” Maharawal said.

Strike!

The question many are asking is: Will there be a strike? Will labor—both union members and other workers—take part?

In many cities, organized labor and immigrant groups have planned official, permitted marches and rallies that will last all day—Union Square in New York will see a rally from noon onward. Many unions and workers' organizations in New York are taking part in what's being called the “ 99 Pickets” (Twitter hashtag #99pkts), in which shops that are sites of labor disputes will see picket lines rolling—some are already in motion, others will begin on May 1 itself. Some familiar targets to followers of Occupy and labor solidarity actions include Sotheby's, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will be in New York to join two of the pickets in support of the Taxi Workers Alliance and the Writers' Guild of America East. “I'm really excited to see if we can get a bunch of pickets all over midtown especially because that's where the 1 percent operates,” Stamp said.

But what of the strike? Back in February 2011, Matthew Stoller, a Roosevelt Institute fellow, argued that striking not only serves as a way for workers to win battles in the workplace; it also raises the public's awareness of and opinion of unions. “People might only like unions when they see strikes, otherwise all they hear about is backroom negotiations,” he wrote. “Perhaps effectively striking is actually the way to force people to ask questions about what kind of country they want to live in.”

And some unions will indeed strike on May Day. In California, 4,500 nurses with California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, at eight Sutter Health-affiliated hospitals will go out on their third one-day strike as the hospital chain tries to force concessions from them. Choosing a strike date of May 1, when workers across the country will be taking action, brings new attention to their ongoing struggle.

“Workers across the board are under attack. I've been a nurse for 31 years, I've worked all of those years at the hospital I work at now. I have lived what happens when people who are interested in making money take over hospitals. The corporate model is really not suited to taking care of people,” said Ann Gabler, a nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. She noted that the hospital where she works was named for the nurse who founded it (whose portrait has mysteriously disappeared from the hospital lobby).

“The proposals basically eradicate about 50 years of collective bargaining, reduce our sick time, wages, family time, our ability to speak up for our patients--everything about being able to care for ourselves and our patients is what they want to take away,” added Gabler, who plans on spending a 12-hour day on the picket line May 1.

Stamp noted that as union membership in the U.S. fell, the culture of awareness around strikes has faded as well. “You used to know, when you were growing up in the '50s and '60s, what a union was, what your contract rights were. Your parents were probably in unions, or somebody in your family told you how to unionize, because that's what people did. That's what protected their jobs. Because people don't know that, I think that the words 'general strike' really scare people in a nonunionized workplace these days.”