May Day: At least you get a day off

At least you get a day off work. May Day, or International Workers’ Day, has little importance amongst the working class here in Bulgaria today. It’s a day off work of course, which is better than a day at work. There’s very little feeling amongst workers that this is their day, a day to protest.

Of course during the Soviet period, it was something different. Perhaps, amongst older people there is still some nostalgia for this day. Even in those times, it wasn’t a protest of workers against the bosses, and the state. Rather it was a manifestation organised by the state in support of bosses and the state.

May Day has its own history. It’s one that is deeply intwined with the actual interests of workers, not supporting this or that party. Its roots go back over one hundred years to America, which at the time was not the America of today, but a country on intense class conflict.

The year 1886 is seen in America history as the climax of what is called ‘the Great Upheaval’. This was a series of strikes, and protests in agitation around the idea of an eight hour day. On a demonstration in Chicago, where a day earlier the police had killed a worker, someone threw a bomb at the cops.

In the fighting that followed seven cops and four workers were killed. Eight anarchists were arrested and charged with the bombing. The trial was farcical. The prosecution argued that it was an anarchist conspiracy. They prevented evidence which claimed that one of them may have built the bomb. They knew that none of them had thrown it, and only two of them were actually there at the time. Nevertheless, seven of the eight were condemned to hang.

In the end two of them had their sentences changed to life in prison. One of them, committed suicide before the execution, and on 11 November 1887, the other four were hanged. In 1904, the international socialist movement decided to mark 1st of May as a day for “the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace”.

Across the world there was a huge campaign for the eight hour day. The first country to institute it was Uruguay in 1915, but only for none agricultural workers. The Russian revolution instituted the eight hour day for all workers in 1917. It was introduced in Bulgaria in 1923.

But where are we today just over a century after this law was passed. Do workers have it today? According to the trade unions over 20,000 complaints have been made about employers behaviour towards their workers. The majority of them concerning unpaid overtime. If 20,000 have complained, you can be sure that many more are suffering quietly. What was established as a workers right more than 100 years ago has completely disappeared. Even worse, we are not being paid for these hours. At least in the past when people worked a twelve hour day, they got paid for it. Nowadays, they still do the work, but don’t even get the money.

If you are interested in discussing these problems with others who are similarly concerned come to our open meeting to discuss these issues at the Konflict office at Dragoman 3 Varna on 1st May at 15:00.

Alternately, if you just want to celebrate May Day with us, come to the Konflikt party at the same address on 1st May at 17:00.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *