Our Day: The May 1st Movement Reclaims May Day in Toronto

by Bryan Doherty – BASICS #14 (June / July 2009)

On the 1st of May every year, workers around the world take to the streets in a show of force and celebration of workers’ resistance. For over a century, major cities have been witness to what our bosses and politicians spend much of the year trying to keep from view – the working class, strong and united. Though you’d never know it living in Toronto, people just like us all around the world on May Day stand in defiance of all those that would like nothing more than working class people at each others’ throats. We aren’t talking about “Labour Day” here. Labour Day – the official, state-sanctioned holiday that falls on the first Monday of every September – is nothing but an off brand bootleg holiday that politicians and bosses threw our way so we can take the kids to the park. May Day, on the other hand, is our day of solidarity. It’s ours, and we’re taking it back.

This year, the May 1st Movement set out take May Day back. We may not have taken the streets this May Day, but we did fly our colours. We packed the Steelworkers’ Hall on Cecil Street that Friday night. Workers from all corners of the world, now living in Toronto, gathered to share with one another. Powerful speakers from Tamil Eelam, the Philippines, Latin America, Nepal and many working-class organizations right here in Toronto took to the stage and listed off the victories of their people and organizations – victories won through struggle and resistance, not begging for charity. Amazing performers did more than entertain the crowd. They took that small stage and showed everyone in that workers hall what art looks like when it grows from strong people that aren’t ever going to give up the fight for justice.

Not one person took the stage to complain about how they’ve been victimized. Not one song about how hard life is. There was no need. Everyone in that room knew what it was to get screwed over. No one there ever thought life was easy. We weren’t there to make each other feel better about all the struggles in our lives. We were there to show each other that all these different struggles are really just one struggle with many parts. While parents from different movements discussed the work they’re engaged in, their children danced to performers. While the FMLN’s election victory in El Salvador was being talked about from the stage, Tamil youth were spreading awareness on the floor about their mobilizations in Toronto and the genocide in Sri Lanka. While we celebrated, we organized. When we talked about our own struggles, we talked about the struggle for liberation of all working people.

May Day is for workers. Not just an auto worker or postal worker. Not just a white guy with a hardhat and steel toed boots. From shop floors to hotel hallways, from behind a drill-press to behind a sewing machine, whether with citizenship or without, we are all workers. May Day is our day and it’s about time we started acting like it. Next May Day, Toronto we will properly join the millions around the world – in the streets and with no more excuses. What are you doing next May Day?

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