The noted international trade union leader Dan Gallin used to say that what the labour movement needed is a “May 2nd Movement”. In other words, after all the wonderful speeches made on May Day, we need to focus on what happens every other day of the year and how we put our ideas into practice.
In that spirit, on Sunday May 2, LabourStart will host a major online event focussing on what we sometimes call “class war prisoners”. It’s an archaic term, a leftover from the 1920s, and had been used by — among others — groups with names like “International Red Aid” and “International Labor Defense”. The latter of these was established in the U.S. in 1926 by James P. Cannon and Max Shachtman, who edited its popular magazine, Labor Defender. The group achieved prominence in the campaigns in defence of Sacco and Vanzetti and Tom Mooney, as well as jailed members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Sadly, International Labor Defense later fell under the control of the Stalinists.
Today in many countries there are trade unionists languishing in jails and it is vitally important to remember them, support them, and campaign for them every day of the year and not only on May Day.
LabourStart’s event on May 2nd will be a Zoom call (like every other event in recent months) featuring a number of speakers from around the world.
Among them will be Monireh Abdi, the wife of jailed Iranian teacher trade unionist Esmail Abdi, who has been the focus of a number of our campaigns over the years.
Another is Lizaveta Merliak, international secretary of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), who was herself arrested during the recent months of protest following the rigged Presidential elections in her country that kept Alexander Lukashenko in power.
Khaing Zar Aung, the president of Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) and a member of the executive committee of the Confederation of Trade Unions Mynamar (CTUM) will also be there. She will be speaking on behalf of a trade union movement and indeed an entire nation facing severe repression at the hands of the military dictatorship.
Ömer Ongun is a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and performing artist now living in Canada who will also speak. His partner, Cihan Erdal, a sociologist, peace and LGBTI+ activist and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), is currently imprisoned in Turkey. Following his arrest last September, CUPE has campaigned for his release.
And finally, we’ll have a speaker from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions whose leader, Lee Cheuk-yan, has been subjected to ruthless persecution by the state.
We encourage trade unionists around the world to raise awareness of the event and to sign up to attend here.
• Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, writing here in a personal capacity
• Workers’ Liberty 3/53 covers the ILD campaign for Sacco and Vanzetti