May Day, May 1, a day celebrated by workers around the world for 130 years. What many don’t know is that it all began right here in the US, in Chicago, in 1886. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) passed a resolution in 1884 to decrease the 10-16 hour workday to 8 hours. By May 1, 1886, over a quarter of a million workers became involved in this campaign, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialist Labor Party and the Knights of Labor. Much of the leadership of these organizations was made up of socialists and anarchists, so there was also a consciousness of the evils of capitalism and the limits of the 8 hour demand.
The essential feature of class-divided societies, including capitalism, is exploitation – exploitation of one (very large) class of people by another (much smaller) class. It is the one thing that absolutely prevents the reforming of capitalism to turn it into an equitable system. (This analysis is based on Capital, Vol.1 by Karl Marx)
Exploitation in capitalist society is the exchange of money for labor in which the money is less than the value of labor’s product – uneven exchange. Exploitation is the bedrock on which two economic (and social) classes exist, with a third group comprising people who may exhibit features of each class, such as small business owners who work alongside their employees or people who are self-employed, independent professionals, or managers.
Nothing demonstrates, nothing verifies the chasms of race, power and wealth in this world better than the differential rates at which the rulers of wealthy countries are distributing Covid-19 vaccines. On March 10, protestors demonstrated at Pfizer and Moderna headquarters in New York City, Boston, London, South Africa and other places to demand equitable availability of vaccines around the globe. As of that date, 130 countries had not received a single dose of vaccine, and many are not on track to be fully vaccinated before 2024. In order to attain herd immunity for the approximately 7.8 billion people in the world, 11 billion doses are needed to give 70% of adults two shots. According to Duke’s Global Health Innovation Center, high income countries, which represent one-fifth of the world’s population, possess six billion doses, but poor countries representing four-fifths of the population have only 2.6 billion. This figure includes the 1.1 billion doses under COVAX, the international plan to vaccinate in poor nations.
Background – The Roots of International Women’s Day
March is Women’s History Month that is celebrated with marches and cultural programs around the world. International Women’s Day, observed in the US on March 8, was sparked in 1909 when 20,000 women waistmakers in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York City shut down the sweatshops to oppose disastrous working conditions, sexual harassment, and low wages. They inspired the German socialist, Clara Zetkin, to establish International Women’s Day with a march dedicated to universal suffrage, free childcare, and other reforms to improve women’s lives (The Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day (jacobinmag.com). Socialist parties in other countries adopted it with marches and demonstrations to create an international movement for justice for women.
In 1917 in Petrograd, Russian working-class women held a militant march (pictured above) that launched strikes and revolutionary actions that established socialism in Russia. Lenin celebrated the role of working women in the Russian revolution as the Bolshevik Party endorsed International Women’s Day:
“For under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that—they remain in ‘household bondage,’ they continue to be ‘household slaves,’ for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the family household.”
Today, we see rote, performative recognition of Women’s International History Month by politicians, the media, and companies who advertise sales to commemorate it while maintaining conditions that oppress women workers.
This article describes the role of capitalism in women’s oppression, the effects of Covid 19 on women, examples of women workers organizing against sexism and capitalism, and a class-based strategy to abolish sexism.
Burma or Myanmar? Neither name connotes any progressive political position. Burma is what the British colonialists called their territory. The military victors in a 1989 coup changed the country’s name to Myanmar. Many local opposition groups prefer Burma, so we’ll go with that.
Every day the news from Burma grows more shocking. The military leaders of the February coup are shooting at and killing large numbers of peaceful demonstrators, at least 51 over the March 13-14th weekend alone. Over 1800 protestors have been arrested. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands continue to protest the military seizure of power, reflecting hatred of the many brutal military regimes during recent Burmese history. A general strike was called on March 8, demanding a return to democracy. Even several hundred police have resigned rather than fire on their own people; youth have set up self-defense committees.
The largest strike in history, a truly awe-inspiring struggle, has been underway in India since September 2020. Over 250 million farmers and other workers from finance, transport, steel, energy and power, health care, communications, ports and docks have participated in this ongoing uprising(1). It is a response to policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that aim to increase the control of private corporations over the Indian economy and decrease the income and rights of workers. Where, we must ask, will this struggle lead?
The surge of wild fires in the state of California — the ravages of climate change, the greed and incompetence of utility companies, the corruption of politicians, the ongoing power shutoffs, the suffering of millions of workers who lose power, money, food, health and safety – no tale better illustrates the death-dealing heartlessness and dysfunctionality of capitalism, even in one of its most “progressive” outposts.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 to stop Congress from validating Biden’s and Harris’ win, and to warn people fighting to reform or overthrow capitalism that they would face violent retaliation. This was an action to terrorize activists demanding antiracist equity and related changes. The response highlighted the extreme differences between the violent attack by Trump supporters and the uprisings against police murders, the ongoing hunger strike by 140 immigrants held in New Jersey detention centers, the union campaign by Google workers, demands for Covid-19 protections and universal healthcare, and demonstrations for jobs, housing, and debt relief. The likely collusion between the police and the Trump mob, the ease with which the mob entered the Capitol, and the ability to recruit thousands will embolden right wing groups, leading to their growth and confidence.
On the other side, the medical and economic repercussions of the pandemic, the wider visibility of police violence, and the acknowledgement of centuries of racist oppression have inspired large uprisings across the US and other countries of multi-generational, and multiracial and multiethnic groups of workers and students. The movement against police murders of black men and women sparked by the killing of Trayvon Martin expanded with the execution of George Floyd with thousands taking to the streets. The diversity of the rebels alarms the people who control the economy and government (the ruling class). At this point, antiracist leaders call for abolition of the police, prisons, and other oppressive conditions, trusting that abolition is possible when we have no power. Their hesitancy to call for and build revolutionary change weakens our fight and obstructs the possibility of a better future.
The potential of a growing, more militant movement threatens US capitalism, which leads to the ruling class building and supporting fascist organizations to terrorize and repress us. We have a tremendous opportunity to unite millions of black, white, Asian, indigenous, and immigrant workers over these common problems around the world. We can build a movement to demand radical changes and to seize power. We have a long way to go but must prepare now
As I write this, thousands of racist proto-fascists are storming the US Capitol while over 140 immigrant detainees at Essex County and Hudson County, NJ ICE detention centers are on hunger strike, the third wave of such strikes at NJ facilities in 2020. While protesting inmates are being threatened and coerced, masses of rioting white people are being gently removed from the Capitol, only 13 arrested (that number may grow) after breaching the legislative chambers and causing death and injury. The chasm between the treatment of those who struggle against hatred and oppression, who have fled from violence and poverty, who sicken and die disproportionately from disease, and between those who have been won to hatred and racist violence is gaping and widening.
Millions of voters in the US look to Biden for righting the wrongs of the Trump Administration by ushering in a more democratic civil society and addressing racism and the Covid19 pandemic, participating in global organizations, restraining state violence, mitigating climate disasters, and restoring jobs and housing. Regardless of his gentler rhetoric, Biden, like Obama, will impose policies to maintain US hegemony (control) and serve the super rich.
This article reviews some of Biden’s appointments for domestic policy offices as a reflection of his Administration’s political positions. As one writer said, it’s “back to the future” as he renews the participation of many Obama officials whose presidency increased deportations, warfare, and inaction against racist murders while maintaining a liberal anti racist veneer. Many activists who voted and organized for Biden, Bernie, and the Green Party want to humanize capitalism, counting on elections, regulations, and defunding carceral institutions to transform society. They believe that the abolition of racism and inequities can occur without workers taking power. We can’t allow this illusion to continue.