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On Newness and History as Occupy and the World Celebrate May Day

The conversation around May Day and general strikes is part of a larger, changing global conversation, growing out of new movements and new democratic forms.

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The practices that grew out of MayDay spread beyond the mobilizations for May 1st with, for example, satirical inventions, such as the popular icon of “Saint Precarious” or the “Precarious Superheroes” who would appear in other campaigns and movements. The “Precarious Superheroes” for example stand for the amount of “super hero capability” precarious workers have to have in their jobs and lives. Dressed in colorful fantasy clothing, like traditional super heroes, the “Precarious Superheroes” have been participating in demonstrations and direct actions. For example, in Hamburg in Germany “Precarious Superheroes” expropriated expensive food from a luxury store and distributed it for free to unemployed, homeless and poor workers in the days preceeding MayDay in 2006.

In 2006 in the US May Day was again placed on the national agenda as day of struggle. Migrant communities and organizations called for a May 1st national boycott and in some places a “Day Without an Immigrant”, with many millions of immigrants and migrants participating across the US, from the major cities to small towns. In Los Angeles alone close to one million people were on the streets. Solidarity actions were organized in Mexico as well, with a “Nothing Gringo Boycott”, intending to show the cross border solidarity with migrant communities. Since 2006, every May Day in the US is one where immigrant rights and power are a core part.

And then in 2008, in the US, the West Coast Dock Workers Union (International Longshore and Warehouse Union ILWU) called for a strike on May Day, demanding "an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East." 30,000 members and tens of thousands of other supporters, shut down the port that day. This resulted in bringing back the question of class, as a possible militant force, into May Day.

While in most of the global south May Day never lost its appeal as a significant day for struggle, both with militant resistance, as well as joyous celebrations, in the global north it is only in the past decade being increasingly reclaimed, from below, as the day of the struggle for dignity of the oppressed, the silenced and marginalized. May Day is also being recuperated as day of joy, of celebrating together the vast diversity of protagonists and participants, and of the changes to come – it is a moment where one catch a glimpse of tomorrow. What began as a recuperation of May Day’s radical tradition by activists of political groups and precarious workers, has increasingly turned into a broader movement, with May Day as a central symbol.

Now, in 2012, the planning for May Day is a combination of all of the above. There are traditional workers’ unions, especially the more progressive segments, there are immigrant rights organizations and communities, and many working groups from Occupy, such as: Mutual Aid, planning to make a prefigurative day with food, some directly from local farmers and producers, child care, tutoring, medical consultations and direct medical aid; Messaging, making sure our message is the one that gets out, interacting with mainstream media as well as creating our own media; Direct Action, planning to shut down major road arteries, but doing so theatrically and with joy; the Plus Brigades, also planning direct action as clown blocks; Art and Culture, organizing so anyone can create art that day, as well as making the action beautiful.

The conversations about strike, what it means to be a worker, and even the meaning of “stopping business as usual” is a changing one, and one that now encompasses work as precarious, using the language of precarity – including various migrations statuses and abilities to risk a work strike. The call for a General Strike takes all of this into consideration and is interpreted as many things, from a labor union shut down to a non consumer day, or one without housework. Already, as we write this in March, coming from Europe and the US we can see the influence of the global south and our own history on our current practices – not linearly perhaps, but nonetheless, there exists many aspects of the past 20 years of a shifting May Day in the New York and US planned May Day ... how did this happen ... this is part of our many questions ...

An Invitation to a Global Conversation

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