Eugene might be more apt to recognize the first of May as Beltaine, an ancient pagan holiday marking the beginning of summer, but local unions and workers’ rights organizations would like you to know that May Day is also International Workers’ Day, featuring events locally and in Salem calling attention to worker and immigrant rights.
Lonnie Douglas of Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network points to Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre as the launching point for the modern May Day. While May Day protests and celebrations might have more traction theses days in Europe and elsewhere, the origins are with American unions, he says.
Douglas says the first May Day in 1886 led to more than “300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the U.S. walking off their jobs in protest against the abuses and greed of the rich bosses.” In Chicago, 40,000 workers went out on strike demanding an eight-hour workday.
Two days later, Chicago police fired on protesters and striking steel workers, killing at least two workers. Then, on May 4, 1886, Douglas says, nearly 3,000 workers gathered in Haymarket Square. A bomb was thrown into police ranks, killing seven. The police fired on the workers.
In the wake of the Haymarket affair, International Workers’ Day was born.
Douglas says that, in conjunction with local unions, ESSN is using May Day “as an opportunity to engage with working class folks and be reminded that all the struggles we have today were fought 100 years ago in our country.”
He adds, “As workers, we have gotten lax and let corrupt politicians and corporations take away the prosperity people fought and bled and died for.”
There will be no politicians speaking at the May 1 “We are the Working Class” event, Douglas says, though they will be there in the crowd. Instead, he says, Lane County Industrial Workers of the World will be hosting a “Soap Box speak out” in which working class people can share their stories.
There will also be facilitated discussions of “What is a Worker,” “How to Build the Power of Workers in our Community” and musical performances by the Raging Grannies, among others. The Neighborhood Anarchist Collective “will be hosting a fair share table and taking donations for our unhoused community.”
Farther afield, Joel Iboa of CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrants rights organization, says the group will be holding a rally at the state capitol in Salem, also on May 1.
“The immigrant rights movement has been using May Day as a rallying call for immigrants because there are so many immigrant workers, he says.
According to Iboa, CAUSA has been marching to Oregon’s Capitol steps for the past 10 years.
“This is an opportunity for folks to stand with immigrants and workers across our state and send a clear message that we won’t be silenced by Trump’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant policies,” he says.
Iboa says the focus of the May Day March and Rally is driver licenses for all, defending Oregon’s sanctuary law, standing together for education and solidarity with unions
State Sen. James Manning will speak, and Iboa says that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will be signing legislation into law that maintains driving privileges for Oregon’s Dreamers and temporary protective status holders by permitting them to use expired documentation to renew or replace a driver license.
The ESSN May Day “We are the Working Class” event is 2 to 7 pm Tuesday, May 1, at Eugene’s downtown Park Blocks at 8th and Oak; more info from firstname.lastname@example.org. CAUSA’s May Day March and Rally is 11:30 am to 2 pm at the Oregon State Capitol, 900 Court Street NE, Salem; to find out more or coordinate a ride from Eugene, contact Joel Iboa at email@example.com or find the event on Facebook.