May Day: Past and Present

Listen to labor professor Bill Barry and organizer Tai Smith on Voice of Russia Radio

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“When people who are religious get in tough situations they go read the Bible. I go read labor history.”  – Professor Bill Barry

“General Strike. No Work. No Shopping. Occupy Everywhere.”

That’s the call Occupy Wall Street put out for May Day, the first one since the Occupy movement touched off.

As tens of thousands took part in mostly peaceful demonstrations throughout the U.S., a hundred protesters gathered outside city hall in Alexandria, Virginia, and a couple hundred gathered at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which had been the home of Occupy Baltimore for several months in the late fall and winter.

Shortly before he was scheduled to speak at the Baltimore rally, Bill Barry, director of labor studies at the Community College of Baltimore County, called into Voice of Russia’s Capitol Correspondent and laid out the history of May Day or International Workers Day.

It comes out of the “movement for a shorter work day, which is an issue that seems to have disappeared,” Barry told guest host Pete Tucker with “We’re back in the 1870s and 80s [when] unions began to demonstrate for the 8-hour day.”

Calling in from the “Working People’s Rally” outside Alexandria’s city hall, Tai Smith, an organizer with Tenants and Workers United, decried a development project that could displace 10,000 residents, many of them Latino and African American.

Developer JBG is calling on the city to assist with its West End project which in its current form would demolish more than 2,000 units of affordable housing in order to make room for the construction of 12.4 million square feet of development, consisting mostly of luxury condos and luxury apartments.

The Alexandria city council appears to be supportive of the project and the issue is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday, and a vote by the full council may come as soon as May 12.

This gives “people in [the] community the sense that the city of Alexandria has absolutely no regard for the working class people,” said Smith. “It’s a tragedy… [T]hey’re not even taking a minimal consideration of the people who are still there.”

Related Stories:

Alexandria’s Wild, Wild West End: JBG Development Threatens to Displace Thousands, April 17, 2012

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