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    Published Online bySocialist Labor Party of America

    April 2007

  • May Day Vs. Labor Day

    A Comparison of the Social Significance of the TwoDays of Labor Celebration

    By Olive M. Johnson


    FIRST PRINTED EDITION .............................. August 7, 1936

    SECOND PRINTED EDITION .......................... March 16, 1938

    ONLINE EDITION ............................................. Apri l 2007

    International Socialism is founded on the Socialist principle that there are onlytwo nationsthe exploiting idlers and the exploited toilers.



    MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA 94042-0218

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    The strongest bond of human sympathy, out-side of the family relation, should be one unit-ing all working people, of all nations, andtongues, and kindreds.Abraham Lincoln.

    NTERNATIONALLY the First of May is known andcelebrated as the workers holiday. In America, onthe other, hand, the First Monday in September is

    officially set aside as Labor Day, and those who insist, inthe international spirit, on celebrating May Day areobliged to do so in defiance of the countrys establishedcustom for the sake of greater harmony with the prole-tariat of the world. Why this divergence in the holidayspirit of labor between the United States and the rest ofthe world? To answer that question is to open the entiresubject of the relations between capital and labor, andthe tactics of what broadly passes for the labor move-ment in facing these relations.

    May Day faces the relationship of capital and labor inthe Marxian spirit of the class struggle; Labor Day sticksto the hollow pretense of a brotherhood between capitaland labor instilled through Samuel Gompers into theAmerican Federation of Labor. Two diametrically diver-gent theories of the position of labor in society and itsstruggle for a share of the good things of this worldbrought forth by its efforts. The difference in these theo-ries centers around the right to the ownership and con-trol of the means of production. The American Federa-tion of Labor not only does not dispute the right to own-ership and control by private capitalists but it actuallychampions and buttresses that control. The Marxianconception, on the contrary, is that since the tool of pro-duction by becoming a machine has passed completelyout of the possibility of private operation and has become



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    collective, the spirit of the age demands and commandscollective ownership by the actual producers, i.e., theworkers themselves.

    Changes in Productive Powers.

    We turn back a few of historys pages and stop at thetime of our granddaddies, when Adam delved and Evespan. The tool of production was then a more or lesssimple hand tool, operated by the individual, the knife,the axe, the sledgehammer, the plow, the harrow, thespinning-wheel and the loom. When the product was fin-ished there was no question as to whom it belonged, viz.,the producer himself, who owned the tool. But a new so-cial system was already knocking on the door. The socialdivision of labor called for more and more exchange ofproducts, and the factory was gradually taking the placeof the home workshop. The apprentice who formerlylearned a trade for the purpose of becoming a masterhimself in due time was now turned into a wage worker,along with many others in the growing shops. The toolswere improved and made specific as the division of laborin the factories grew. Then by easy stagescrude andsimple at firstthe tools developed into machines. Amachine is a complex tool in the operation of which theactual labor process is performed by the mechanism.Animal power, wind, water, finally steam, and in duetime electricity, with the radio in the offing, were em-ployed to drive these machines.

    New Class Lines Drawn.

    Imperceptibly, actually unrecognized by the workerhimself, a tremendous social change had taken place.


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    The product of labor no longer belonged to the producer.himself. The change passed unperceived for two reasons,first, slavery and serfdom had preceded wage labor andto the downtrodden laborer the new order simply im-plied a change of masters. Secondly, the product followedthe tool, that is, as previously it continued to belong tothe owner of the means of production.

    Actually a tremendous social change had taken place,amounting to an industrio-social revolution. Day by dayand year by year this was indeed scarcely perceptible,but in a comparison of the state of the nation one hun-dred fifty to two hundred years ago with today, the revo-lutionary changes that have taken place are astounding.

    Starting with the tool and the workshop securely inthe hands of a private owner, who hired wage workers atso much per hour or week, a profit, however small perworkman, fell to the factory owner. With each enlarge-ment of the factory and business, the profit increased,even if the exploitation per worker did not increase.Then came the improvement of the tools, slowly, faster,tremendously, marvelously. With each such improve-ment the worker was able to turn out more prod-uctsproducts that belonged to his employer. The bene-fits of this tremendous enlargement of production didnot in any sense accrue to the worker. If apparently aportion of the working class may be better off than theaverage wage laborer was a hundred years ago, thisbetterment does not in any way measure up to theworkers increased productive capacity. And, moreover,the general truth is indisputable that as a class theworkers have gained nothing at allwage slaves anddrudges from the cradle to the grave, poverty hauntingevery doorstep. The only thing that has increased is the


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    uncertainty of the possibility of making a living and theinsecurity of existence from hazardous employment andlong periods of unemployment.

    But the revolution that has taken place on the otherside of the fencethat is, with the employing classisnone the less startling. Time was when the saying heldfairly good that any one had a chance to get into busi-ness and profit thereby. The any one, of course, wasreally a piece of economic nonsense, since to have em-ployers, employes were always necessary. But with anopen country of tremendous natural resources, and withgrowing, building, expanding, improving the means ofcommunication, transportation, production and generalexistence there were large opportunities for millions ofeager minds and hands.

    Where have these opportunities gone? The farmer isloud in his exclamations as to the impossibility of mak-ing a living from the land. The small business man ormanufacturer, who hangs on at all, simply hangs on tothe ragged edge of existence, with a plunge out of atwenty-story window as the only release from his wor-ries. Such small businesses as are strung throughout theland and to some extent keep up the fiction of the possi-bility for a small man to exist are, in probably someninety-nine cases out of a hundred, mere distributingagencies for large manufacturers, depending entirelyupon these for credit and often enough for their veryrent.

    The Uncertainty Grows.

    The productive powers of the nation, along with thewealth of the nation, have passed into the hands of a


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    very few. Former Ambassador to Germany, Mr. JamesW. Gerard, some time ago stated that the actual controlof the wealth of this nation rests, through interlockingdirectorates, in the hands of some sixty individuals. Thenumber matters little, be they sixty or a thousand, thestartling fact is here, and it is self-evident that an insig-nificantly small fraction of the population controls theland, the natural resources and the productive machin-ery (and, as a result, the products of labor) of this nation.

    What is the result? We have already pointed out thegeneral result as to the complete wiping out of theboasted opportunity to independence and prosperity ofthe ambitious and business-eager American. But thereremains the working class, now the tremendous majorityof the population. It is the sheerest nonsense in thesedays to prate about any opportunity for the averagewage worker to become a prosperous business man, letalone a millionaire. The workers sole worry today is tokeep the wolf from the door, if the creature has not al-ready devoured part of his family.

    The worker is a toolless man, lacking totally themeans of self-employment. He has but one thing to sell,in a society controlled by sale and commerce. That onething is his own ability to work, to produce usefulthingsproduce them, of course, for the owner of thetool to sell. However, the sale of this article, theworkers labor power, is by no means certain or auto-matic. It may be ever so fine a labor power, he may bethe most excellent mechanic, the best trained engineer,the neatest worker with needle, hammer, saw, brush orpen, and his commodity (his ability to produce) may yetbe laid unceremoniously on the shelf, for his employmentdepends upon one thing only, viz., the possibility of the


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    employers making a profit out of him, and the em-ployers success in this line in turn depends on the pos-sibility of profitably disposing of the goods the workercreates by his labor.

    The Periodical Crises.

    Now, we turn again to the