Cuba Holds Yet Another May Day Parade

Dariela Aquique

May Day parade in Santiago de Cuba in 2012.

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.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

4 thoughts on “Cuba Holds Yet Another May Day Parade

  • The article author has gotten everything right! Only in Cuba can they make the only real international day for workers to demand their rights and express their dislike into a celebrations without any kind of demands what so ever!

  • Today is as *very* precious day. Holier than any religious holiday. Thanks to the struggle of anarchists, social-democrats and socialists workers since the 19th century from all around the world most of us aren’t stuffed in a coal mine killing themselves for 16 hours a day. And it’s wrongly called ‘labor day’ when it should be ‘worker’s day’.

  • The adult son of the owners one of the casa particulares that I use is a teacher’s assistant at an elementary school for special needs children in Havana. He allows the director of the school to keep his paycheck in exchange for freedom NOT to work. He speaks English and German and can make more money as a tour guide for his parents’ tourists in one day then he makes all month as a teaching assistant. Still, he dreads May 1 because he has to attend the March. As it turns out the supervisor for the entire special needs program in Havana personally conducts the roll call at the meeting place for employees prior to the rally.

  • Dariela Aquique, when I go to another country and if invited, attend a demonstration or rally, I do so first because I agree with the intent and second because I want to show respect for the demonstrators. I did notice in 2002 that there were less signs proportionally that at a similar sized demonstration in the US, but there were both professional and private signs and banners. And there were far too many people to find my new friends, but I was very glad to be there and join in the protest of Pres. Bush. So as Cuba embarks on introducing a variety of new enterprises, including urban cooperatives, workers’ rights are going to need more support in the days to come. Hope you have the opportunity to add your historical perspective.

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