HAVANA TIMES — May Day rallies commemorate a major strike which took place in Chicago back in 1886. This unprecedented event prompted the country’s repressive forces to unleash a brutal offensive which led to the deaths of 6 strikers and the wounding and detention of hundreds of workers.
Chicago union leaders had called for peaceful negotiations at Haymarket Square. The police, however, opened fire on the gathered workers and the explosion caused by a bomb killed eight law officers. Police repression was stepped up and all working-class activists were jailed.
Anarchist leaders were accused of murder and, following arbitrary legal proceedings, executed on November 11, 1887. Their names were Alberto Parsons, Adolph Fischer, August Spies, George Engels and Oscar Neebe. They are collectively known as the Chicago Martyrs.
At the Congress of the 2nd International held in Paris in 1889, the date of this execution was declared the day of the international proletariat. Communists have since usurped this commemorative date, which has acquired a highly political connotation, to the extent that many have long been of the opinion that it is a Marxist invention.
Cuba first organized a May Day rally on May 1, 1890. Though their movement was at its infancy, Cuban workers had the historical honor of participating in the world’s first parades held in celebration of International Workers’ Day. The Workers’ Circle of Havana (Círculo de Trabajadores de La Habana) organized a parade which became a gathering of over three thousand people and several speakers.
After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, May Day immediately went from being a commemoration of those who perished in Chicago, to the completely pro-establishment mass function it has been to this day.
At the May Day rally held that first year following the revolution, there were banners and signs where phrases such as “We support the revolutionary government”, “We demand military training for the working class”, “Thank you, Fidel” and other similar slogans.
Fidel Castro was not in Cuba at the time, and the assembly ended close to midnight with a mass gathering where several leaders spoke.
Comandante Raul Castro gave the closing remarks, saying: “(…) We are revolutionaries, and, as we move forward, the Revolution will run into more opposition and more resistance, and we must be conscious of this (…)”
Thus, as early as that May Day rally, the masses began to be poisoned with the age-old fear of the enemy who lurks in the shadows. Faced with such dangers, how could the Cuban workers’ movement dare demand its rights, on this or any other date?
Not even the parade traditionally held on that date could be organized without having been convened, planned, coordinated, directed and supervised by the State. No speech could be pronounced if it hadn’t been previously scrutinized. If we examine any of these allegedly commemorative parades, we will soon notice that not one of the banners held up by the crowds makes any mention of the Chicago workers.
I am positive that most Cuban workers do not know the origin of this day of remembrance. To them, it is a day in which, for over five decades, they have been instructed to attend a parade, shout out prefabricated slogans, wave flags and raise banners with political catch-phrases on them.
That is how Cuban workers will parade across all of the country’s provinces and towns on Wednesday: under the slogan of “For a more prosperous and sustainable form of socialism!”
A horde of people who aren’t even exactly sure what it is they are celebrating, advancing as though in a conga-line at a party. Then, everyone hits the beer kegs set up at public dance areas. It’s a public holiday: after the political slogans have been shouted, it’s time to party. For them, it is yet another May Day in Cuba and nothing more.