May the First - Workers Day
Mayday as a cultural event seems to be dying. It has become increasingly dissociated from the cultural horizon of the vast majority of the working class—becoming a mere preserve of enthusiasts and the official Labour movement. Mayday has fallen into the hands of the Labour hierarchy and its trade-unionist minions, and has become a celebration of their organisations: a day for Labourite triumph and self-congratulation ... The reason why Mayday has become dissociated from relevance and meaning to most working class lives is that the bodies associated with it, and with the whole way of life it typifies, have become divorced from the lived and meaningful experience of most workers...
Yet the officers of these trade-unions remained true to their darling State—and lo, they were rewarded in 1997 by the election of a Labour government. This, far from releasing the unions, has merely extended the principle of state-co-opted unionism, though with throwing some new bones to the union officials. The main bone given them was compulsory union recognition, so that instead of the workers needing to organise themselves to demonstrate their collective existence to an employer, unions only needed to fulfil certain (cumbersome) bureaucratic requirements to add to their head count. Of course, all of this must be conducted under the continuedly strict judicial control. Further, the government introduced the minimum wage, wherein the state steps in to fulfil the role of the working class in unions of setting their own wages.
The process has been one of ideological assault on the idea of unionism. The Tories persistently presented their assault upon unions, with all its contradictions, as being a battle for individual rights. Individuals were given the right not to join unions, to not be “unjustifiably disciplined”, to use the courts to influence the unions. The requirement for unions to have to officially defend, or renounce actions of their members means that unions are prevented from articulating their message in the public space. The damage this has done can most clearly be seen in the fate of the Liverpool dockers, where the strike was crushed by silence as the union leadership stood by. The government cannot stop industrial action occurring, but what it can stop is the ideas spreading, and stop people spreading consciousness of unionism.
The process is one of continual removal of the working class from any real control over their own economic lives, alienating institutions they created into state domination. As such people become increasingly alienated from the cultural manifestations of workerdom, enabling Labour and their union lackeys to make Mayday their day. However, all need not be lost.
Remembering that 364 days a year belong to their employers, workers can take steps towards wrenching Mayday from the grasp of alienated union officialdom, and making Mayday our day