May 1st, international workers' day, is not just an occasion for another protest march. It is the international festival of the working class; dedicated both to the martyrs of the past and the victories of the future. May Day is the symbol of the existence of an alternative to the world of today.
Today we celebrate May Day in the knowledge that the old working class movement has collapsed. In the East the old leadership has either been liquidated or has become a new ruling class; in the West the majority of labor parties have become the willing servants of the old order. As a consequence the weaker countries of the world, whichever political bloc they are part of, have become subject to the dictatorship - whether military, political or economic - of the leading world powers: the U.S.A., Russia, Europe and now China and Japan.
Behind this development lies the central fact of world resource scarcity. The gearing of the world economic system to the large scale production of military hardware and U.S. style consumer "luxury" goods threatens to exhaust the world's supplies of raw materials by early next century. The application of science to agriculture may save the inhabitants of the underdeveloped countries from mass starvation long enough to witness the total collapse of the economic system of the developed countries. The sole legacy of this system will be the poisoning of land, air and water that it has brought about.
The Eight Hour Day Movement demanded:
"Eight hours to work; eight hours to play; Eight hours to sleep; eight bob a day".
For a while it seemed that these demands could only be achieved by a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society. Later, as the demands were progressively satisfied and the workers granted a junior partnership in capitalist society (now grown immeasurably richer), the unions and labor parties lost their revolutionary perspective. Today we can see in what sense the demands were only partly satisfied and how the manner of their satisfaction has led the world to the current crisis situation.
The old workers' movement wanted more than just adequate food, shalter and rest for the working class. The workers wanted to be fully developed as-individuals. The aim was cultural and educational as well as political and economic advancement. Social and political equality were to flow from the control by the working classes of the economy. As the song went during the Spanish Civil War (the last gasp of the old workers! movement):
"He wants no servant under him and no boss over his head".
Mass production is the secret of the fantastic wealth of the developed countries and hence the secret of the fantastic wealth of their capitalist classes. It is also more than this; it is the basis of consumerism: the dictatorship of the bourgeois over the proletariat in the sphere of consumption. It cannot be denied that the working class in the developed countries have shared in the vast increase in social wealth over the past 100 years. However, they did not themselves make the choice to consume this increase of wealth as an increase in the quantity of consumer goods rather than as a real change in the quality of their lives. In the rush to satisfy purely material needs the wider choices were ignored. Nor could these choices be made by individuals. The decision as to what type of person a society shall produce, if it can be made consciously, can only be made by the people as a whole. The increase in the productive powers of the economy was directed, not to consciously chosen aims, but by the market itself to the further increase of the productive powers of the economy. This very increase in the size of the economy decreed further choices: to allow the development of slums and then to profitably reclaim them; to accumulate huge concentrations of population requiring the development of monolithic transport industries to serve them; to produce occupational neuroses and work fatigue, thus allowing the creation of whole industries based around tranquilizers, pre-packaged vacations and psychoanalysis. Soon there will be large-scale air and water purification industries: economic necessities create their own economic necessity.
The precondition for this immense accumulation was the extension of the market. Once released from the slavery of the factory, the worker was set upon by a whole corps of advisers, salesmen and hire-purchase agents, all with the aim of getting him to consume what the market had decreed should be produced.
The workers have the eight hour day, but they have to work longer to pay their hire purchase commitments. They have their eight hours to sleep, and they need them because not only is work exhausting, but also because travelling to and from work is increasingly exhausting. What with overtime and travelling most workers don't have eight hours to play, but who feels like it anymore?
The bosses and bureaucrats cannot be allowed to go on creating poisoned air, congested roads, and crippled and under-developed lives for the majority and profits for the minority (themselves). The redirection of the world's industrial system and the creation and satisfaction of new non-material needs must be achieved. This cannot and will not be done by a handful of bureaucrats following the directions of a government elected by the newspaper magnates. The planning of the new industrial system and the dis-accumulation of population that it will require, can only be by the people themselves. This can be done only by the direct intervention of the workers in production, by participant managed organizations and communities, by the seizure of the accumulated assets of the ruling class, and by individual involvement in the determination of one's quality of life. No bureaucrats can do this for you, no party can do this for you, no government can do this for you.
The aim must be workers' self-management of a new, rationally planned world.
MARCH ON MAY 1ST. MEET 11.00 A.M.
EIGHT-HOUR DAY MONUMENT OPP. TRADES HALL.