Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 30 April 2015

125 years of May Day

Learn the lessons of past struggles

May Day in central London, photo Paul Mattsson

May Day in central London, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

CWI statement

This year marks the 125th International Workers' Day, or 'May Day'. The original call for workers' demonstrations around the world on 1 May was made in July 1889 at the International Socialist Workers Congress in Paris. That founded the international organisation that became known as the 'Second International'.

1 May was chosen to mark the 1886 'Haymarket Massacre'. During a general strike in Chicago demanding an eight hour day, a bombing took place that resulted in a frame-up trial and, in 1887, the execution of four workers' leaders and activists on "conspiracy" charges. Such was the success of the 1890 May Day that in 1891 another international congress decided it should become an annual event.

The original aim of May Day was to show the strength of the workers' movement, draw a balance sheet of its recent experiences and to re-affirm its resistance to capitalism and war, its fighting spirit and objective of socialism.

Launched at a time when, in many countries, the workers' movement had started to grow steadily, and in some cases rapidly, May Day initially expressed the socialist optimism of that time.

But much water has flowed under the bridge since that first international May Day. Despite the building of many powerful workers' organisations and despite thousands of often bitter and bloody struggles and revolutions, the world remains dominated by capitalism.


The capitalist ruling class carries out endless 'austerity', driving down living standards and eroding working conditions. The globe is plagued by conflicts, imperialist armed 'interventions' and terrible civil wars, including Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine.

The recent tragic drownings of desperate refugees in the Mediterranean are the responsibility of imperialist warmongers and capitalist EU, whose actions have helped create the largest number of refugees since WW2.

This does not mean nothing has been achieved by years of workers' organisation and battles. In many countries important gains were made for the working class: democratic rights for all and social services, education and public health gains were conquered.

Workers' higher living standards are the result of mass struggles or the threats of struggles. But, as the current crisis shows, all these gains can be threatened and even removed so long as capitalism remains in place.

Today, while we are facing one of the worst ever crises of capitalism, when even the strategists and thinkers of capitalism cannot put forward an optimistic perspective, we have to recognise that the workers' movement is, in many countries, facing severe crises.

The conservative union leaders have failed to lead and to develop militant struggles to effectively resist austerity and other attacks on working people and the poor. Building combative, democratic trade unions remains a key task facing the working class.

This is not in any way to say that struggles have disappeared. On the contrary, struggles are regularly seen around the world. Every decade since the first May Day has seen big class battles and revolutions occur somewhere.

Now we are seeing a tremendously important radicalisation and the beginning of struggles in the US, the number one imperialist power, particularly around the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage and against police brutality.

Many parts of the world have seen working people and youth protesting and fighting for their demands over the past year. Brazil saw mass protests around the World Cup and students protested in Chile, a powerful strike wave took place in South Africa, strikes increased in China. Belgium has seen powerful strike movements and mass protests against new taxation are taking place in Ireland.

It is not only strikes and protests - January saw the election of a Syriza government that pledged to oppose austerity in Greece.

Two stunning by-election results that saw Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) members elected to the Irish parliament showed that the working class will resist austerity. In Africa there are renewed movements against authoritarian regimes. Burkina Faso's dictator, Compaore, was removed after 27 years in power.

These are just some of the latest examples of working people being prepared to struggle. Even if there are long periods of what appears to be acquiescence and hardly any class struggle, this does not continue indefinitely.

However, in many countries the past disappointments and defeats are weighing heavily on the workers' movement - a situation made worse by the offensive that the ruling classes launched.

Ideological offensive

This offensive has not simply been in terms of lower living standards but also included an ideological offensive against the ideas of collective action and socialism. The propagandists of capitalism have also used the counter-revolution in North Africa and the Middle East - imperialist armed interventions, the growth of religious and ethnic sectarianism and bloody civil wars - to counter the worldwide enthusiasm sparked off by the 2011 revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

What has happened since the 'Arab Spring' is not an argument against revolution. But for real, lasting change, a mass, united workers' movement has to be built which has a clear socialist programme and an understanding of what concrete steps are needed to end the rule of capitalism and its elites.

In building such movements, socialists have to be able to answer the questions of whether 'socialism' failed in countries like the former Soviet Union. This means explaining the two essential elements to beginning to create a socialist society - namely the taking over of the commanding heights of the economy and the vital democratic control and planning of these resources in the interests of the majority. This requires stringent measures to prevent the development of a new privileged, bureaucratic elite.

The many experiences of so-called 'socialist', 'social democratic' or 'labour' governments, which failed to carry out their promises and tried to work within the straitjacket of the capitalist system, still calls into question the idea of socialism as the viable alternative to capitalism.

The Syriza government in Greece is in danger of ultimately failing in its aim of confronting austerity because of its refusal to mobilise popular support for a break with capitalism. Internationally the workers' movement has, unfortunately, seen many such lost opportunities, which is why the building a force with clear socialist ideas and a confidence to end capitalism is so important.


Despite these complications, the idea of socialism as the alternative to capitalism will revive as more and more look for a way out of the impasse facing the world. At this moment, this is seen most clearly in the US, partly because until now the idea of socialism in that country has been weak. The breakthrough election of socialist Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council in 2013 was an indication of the important radicalisation beginning to affect sections of US society.

The dead-end of capitalism is seen by the mess its ruling representatives have made of the last two decades when, in some areas, they had a 'free-run'. This ended in a mighty crash that led to economic stagnation, at best.

We have also witnessed the piling up of huge contradictions due to many economic, social and environmental crises, at a time when the rapid development of science and technology offers huge potential for humankind. Yet capitalism still cannot even provide safe water to every human being and presides over vast inequalities in all parts of the world.


The task for socialists and worker-activists is not just building, or rebuilding, combative class organisations, vital as that is. We must also learn lessons from the last 125 years and skilfully apply them to today's situation.

Firstly, we must argue that the key to changing the world is through ending capitalist dictatorship over the economy. Secondly, we must build mass forces that can win support for a bold socialist programme, especially among the working class, poor and youth.

This is not done in the abstract, but through active propaganda and participation in the struggles that inevitably will arise. In this way, socialists can provide an answer to the question of "what can be done?" and help create a mass movement that will, finally, achieve the objectives of the founders of May Day.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 30 April 2015:

Socialist Party news and analysis

NHS in crisis

After the election: prepare for the battles to come

Establishment witch-hunt in Tower Hamlets

Rent controls? Another Labour fudge

And the rich just get richer!

Them & Us

The Socialist election schedule

International socialist news and analysis

125 years of May Day: Learn lessons of past struggles

Ireland: crucial stage for water charges

Greece: gold mining meeting

Special feature

Socialist plan or capitalist chaos

Why you should join the socialists

Elections 2015

Why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition?

Why I'm standing

Key working class fighters rally to TUSC

Anti-cuts councillor set to defend seat

Pop star and activist Jawad Ahmad backs TUSC

Why many class fighters won't vote Labour

Socialist Party workplace news

Labour Party link dominates conference discussion

Dundee porters force NHS bosses to retreat

Glasgow homelessness caseworkers' strike

MoD IT workers demand decent pay

Bromley workers escalate strikes

Bradford bus drivers strike against job losses

Wales: Hundreds protest cuts to adult education

Barking bin workers walkout over pay cuts

May Day Greetings

May Day Greetings in the Socialist 2015 - pdf


Home   |   The Socialist 30 April 2015   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:

May Day:

triangleA CWI May Day 2020 statement

triangle130 Years of May Day in Britain: Fight for workers' rights more relevant than ever

triangleWorkers fighting to defend safety and livelihoods - NSSN national meeting a huge success


triangleCWI rally: 80 years since the murder of Leon Trotsky

triangleFighting to end racism and capitalism

triangleCapitalism's 'vaccine war' shows need for socialist cooperation

triangleFrom first wave to second? Capitalism's Covid failures


triangleYoung Socialists and Socialist Students day of action

triangleNorth London: Socialist Party speaks at BLM protest

triangleUnite union branch pledges to support socialist candidates who oppose cuts


triangleCaerphilly and RCT Socialist Party: Socialism in the 21st century

triangleSocialism 2020


triangleSaving the music industry from pandemic and austerity

Working class:

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Class struggle and the role of the working class in changing society


triangleAnniversary of nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


triangleLabour payouts: unions must discuss political representation


triangleOppose BT site closures - national strike ballot needed


triangleUCU: election victory for combative rank and file


triangleBooks that inspired me: The Fire Next Time


triangleCuba: Covid-19 and the 60-year-old embargo


triangleDebenhams: Fighting closures and redundancies


triangleGreece elections: Syriza ousted amid voter disillusionment


triangleGreece-Turkey border refugee crisis


triangle80 years since the murder of Leon Trotsky rally


triangleYemen's desperate civil war fuelled by imperialism and regional powers


triangleTV Review: Chernobyl - Workers' heroism vs sclerotic Stalinism


triangleInternational round-up


triangleSyria: Assad regime consolidates power after brutal counterrevolution

Kshama Sawant:

triangleAmazon bosses defeated in Seattle - Kshama Sawant reelected


triangleRevolution and counter-revolution in Sudan


triangleKshama Sawant reelected in Seattle

Middle East:

triangleBirmingham SE Socialist Party: Middle East mass protests - a socialist way forward


triangleIraq - a brutal legacy of imperialist intervention

Burkina Faso:

triangleBurkina Faso: Mass uprising ousts dictator


triangleAmazon fires: Big business is destroying the environment


triangleSouthwest London Socialist Party: The revolt in Chile


triangleHuawei: what's behind Johnson's u-turn?


triangleBelgium: Movement against climate change grows


triangleEgypt: Street protests challenge Trump's favourite dictator

South Africa:

triangleLeeds & York Socialist Party: How apartheid was ended in South Africa





Cuba: Covid-19 and the 60-year-old embargo


Nuclear weapons

Anniversary of nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki



Iran: Renewed wave of protests and strikes



Israel: Nurses strike and win


Hong Kong

Hong Kong: The fight for democratic rights


South Africa

South Africa: Building jobs and living wage campaign



France: 20,000 rally against Paris's killer gendarmes



Black and white youth rise up against racism - US protester speaks to the Socialist



USA - another cop killing of unarmed black man sparks widespread protests



Outrage spreads globally following US police murder of George Floyd


Hong Kong

Chinese state's imposition of draconian law reignites Hong Kong protests



Economic collapse leads to renewed protests across Lebanon



Trump, coronavirus, capitalism, and the presidential race



India: Fighting the curse of capitalism and coronavirus



Trump puts profit before safety (again)

triangleMore International articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020