A fist, a brain and May Day

Someone or something is coming at you. What do you do? You make a fist.

You have four fingers and a thumb — if you’re lucky and haven’t lost one of them on the job. Hanging loose, they’re vulnerable. One at a time, they could easily be broken. But clenched tight, your fist becomes a hammer — a tool or a weapon.

Your brain makes the decision when to clench up. It’s a conscious decision, often made in a split second.

When workers decide they’ve had enough abuse from their bosses, they rally, they walk picket lines, they march. And to show their determination, they raise a clenched fist. It’s happening all the time now, as billionaires try to reimpose miserable conditions and wages that we supposedly overcame long ago. Truck drivers do it and so do nurses and fast food servers.

Why the fist? Because the collective brains of the working class — all over the world, really — know that the biggest enemy of our struggle for a better life is isolation. We have to unite if we are going to win anything. And the bosses, our enemies, hire the brains of those who care only about money to figure out ways to divide us.

We come from all over the world. We speak different languages. Our skin comes in a variety of colors. We identify as different genders, and we experience love in different ways. Some of us have a family history of the deepest oppression because of so-called “race” or nationality. Others haven’t had to go through that.

But we all have to work for a boss if we want to survive. That’s what makes us part of the working class — whether we have a job or not. We don’t live the way bankers and bosses do — by exploiting the labor of others.

Clenching that fist means we’ll all stand together. Our brains have figured it out, and our fists tell the bosses that we see through their attempts to poison us with anti-immigrant slurs, racism, sexism, anti-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer bigotry, disrespect for those with disabilities and the rest of their vile tricks.

In the United States at this time —
just like in 1886, when the struggle that led to May Day broke out in Chicago — the working-class movement is getting its greatest energy from those who are the most exploited and oppressed. Just a look at low-wage workers tells you who that is: largely people of color and women, many of them immigrants, whose choices are all too often a job at Mickey D’s or jail. Youth of color may also die from a police officer’s bullet.

Workers who earn more, either because they belong to a union or have better-paid skills, might look at a march by workers earning less than minimum wage and think, “Glad that’s not me.”

That’s a big mistake. Because these struggles are about all workers. The workers in Wisconsin recognized that when they occupied the State Capitol in 2011. Whether they were lab technicians or clerks or machinists or teachers, they understood that anti-labor legislation would drive down conditions for everyone. And they were right.

The first May Day came out of the struggle for the eight-hour day. Since then, millionaires have turned into multibillionaires, thousands of times richer.

But we’re still fighting for the eight-hour day — more than 125 years later! How many of us today have to work 60 and 70 hours a week, often in several part-time jobs, just to pay the most pressing bills?

We need each other. We need to come together and fight for our rights. Wherever you are, all out for May Day!