Friday, April 28, 2006

Not the Best Day to Rally


This morning on the NPR station here in Iowa City, I heard that the meatpacking division of Cargill and its meatpackers’ union negotiated to give Iowa workers a Tuesday-Saturday schedule next week, letting them take Monday off to attend rallies against an immigration bill under consideration in Congress.

On its face, this sounds like enlightened cooperation between management and labor to fight their common foe of immigration-law reform—particularly since Cargill has experienced unprofitable work slowdowns on the days of previous rallies.

But the announcer on KUNI-FM also noted that the immigration rallies are timed to coincide with May 1—May Day—which might present an opening for the labor movement’s opponents.

May Day had its origins in labor’s struggle for an eight-hour workday in the late 19th century but later was co-opted as a day of celebration by highly militarized Communist regimes (remember all those parades in Moscow’s Red Square?), anti-U.S. reformers of all stripes abroad and, after the Cold War’s end, a variety of leftist or anarchist causes in the U.S.

Does the newly invigorated labor movement really want to align itself with anarchists, the roughly three remaining Marxists, and anti-U.S. sentiment to this extent? Or is May Day a sufficiently tame memory that U.S. conservatives can no longer make hay out of the old Communist association?

It might better for U.S. labor to wait a couple of weeks for May Day to pass, but then, organizers may have calculated that it’s better to capitalize on the enormous energy shown in demonstrations this year than to worry about the past associations of May 1.

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