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International Workers’ Day in Indiana and the May Day People’s Picnic

May Day, or International Workers’ Day, is a celebration on May 1 commemorating the working class’ militant behavior. Workers recognize the day through strikes and marches around the world. At its core, May Day is about workers’ rights that have been won and defending them through collective action and struggle.

This year we celebrate the 132nd anniversary. The holiday started as a commemoration of Chicago labor activists who were murdered by police in the Haymarket massacre of 1886 while protesting for an eight-hour work day. It has become a greater celebration of the working class and our struggle against the ruling class.

Doris Jones, an organizer for Hope Packages and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, has worked in both unionized and non-union workplaces. She was previously in the leadership of SEIU Local 1. She described the labor situation in Indiana. 

“A lot of businesses aren’t unionized, and even for some that are, the union has to ‘act underground.’ The so-called Right to Work [law] allows corporations and the  capitalists to put our lives on the line to make a profit,” she said. “Other states at least had a referendum to not pass Right to Work.” 

By contrast, Indiana passed Right to Work in 2012 under pro-capitalist Governor Mitch Daniels. The law is couched in pro-worker language, but breaks the power of unions in workspaces. It makes it illegal for “any employer, labor organization, or person” to require dues as a condition to employment. What this actually means, however, is that when workers are able to unionize, the bosses can hire new workers and engage in legal and illegal practices to discourage them from joining. Bosses can, and have, even pointed out to their employees that they benefit from the union without paying dues; this deprives unions of the funds they need to protect their workers. 

“When I was in a unionized workplace, it wasn’t perfect,” Jones said. “But when I was in a union, we could hold our bosses in check. We could actually force the bosses and managers to face consequences when they broke rules or harassed workers. Not having a union where I work now, my wellbeing is put on the line.” 

Walkouts or strikes are often seen as an immediate cause for firing, but a recent victory for SEIU “shows the power of unions,” Jones states. In 2018, SEIU Local 1 advocated for living wages (many of them were paid less than $10 an hour) and paid sick days. Janitors and union members staged a demonstration in front of Eli Lilly’s headquarters in October of that year, where 48 demonstrators were arrested.

In the course of the pandemic, the 10 richest men in the world made $540B while millions of workers have been forced out of their jobs and into poverty. Liberation News reported that 4.5 million people were continuing jobless claims this February.

“No one actually talks to these frontline workers, like janitors, who have kept these businesses and Fortune 500 companies running while the capitalist rake in profits,” Jones said. “The labor struggle in Indiana is in a really hard spot.”

Want to learn more about PSL’s fight for the working class? Meet us this May Day at Flanner House Farm’s May Day People’s Picnic at 2424 Martin Luther King Jr. St. from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 

PSL Indianapolis is also joining COSECHA Indiana as they travel for a day of action on May 1 in Washington, D.C. to demand protections for the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States.