May Day and the fall of Saigon


Today is May Day, the day that celebrates International Workers Day. This article describes its origins as the day in 1886 where a massive number of workers in the US went on strike demanding an eight-hour workday.

In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day.

On Saturday, May 1, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies were held throughout the United States, with the cry, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million. In New York City the number of demonstrators was estimated at 10,000 and in Detroit at 11,000. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, some 10,000 workers turned out. In Chicago, the movement’s center, an estimated 30,000-to-40,000 workers had gone on strike and there were perhaps twice as many people out on the streets participating in various demonstrations and marches as, for example, a march by 10,000 men employed in the Chicago lumber yards.

There was a tragic aftermath on May 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago when a bomb was thrown at a rally by striking workers protesting the killing by police of several workers the previous day. The bomb killed seven police officers and at least four civilians and injured many more.

May Day is a big public holiday celebrated by workers all over the world but no longer in the US, perhaps because it is so closely associated with communists and socialists and the working class.

This week there have been a lot of items in the news about the 40th anniversary of what is referred to as the ‘fall of Saigon’. April 30, 1975 had seen the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon, signifying the end of the US war effort in Vietnam. I think that many people in the US who mourn that defeat do not quite realize that much of the world, especially those nations that had suffered under colonialism and imperialism, did not see the US being in Vietnam as a noble war against the spread of communism but more as another sign of imperial ambition that had to be thwarted, and they welcomed its expulsion.

The last May Day celebration I personally attended was on May 1, 1975 in Colombo, Sri Lanka and much of that event was spent celebrating the previous day’s news from Vietnam.

Comments

  1. says

    The dictatorship in Turkey has pre-emptively gassed and high-pressure hosed people attempting to gather in Taksim square.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11577291/Istanbul-May-Day-protests-turn-violent-as-10000-police-called-in.html
    The reporting is interesting. The 10,000 police were already there. It’s not like a riot started and the police were called in. The police were standing around armed and ready. You can tell who’s planning to start a riot by how they show up.

  2. says

    no longer in the US, perhaps because it is so closely associated with communists and socialists and the working class.

    I’m surprised the capitalists haven’t taken it over. “Yay, today is leveraged buyout day!!”

  3. Chiroptera says

    I think that many people in the US who mourn that defeat do not quite realize that much of the world, especially those nations that had suffered under colonialism and imperialism, did not see the US being in Vietnam as a noble war against the spread of communism but more as another sign of imperial ambition that had to be thwarted, and they welcomed its expulsion.

    I remember reading an article a couple of years ago where an American Vietnam War veteran was quoted:

    We Americans keep thinking of Vietnam as something that happened to us when it really was something we did to them.

  4. says

    Chiroptera:
    I remember reading an article a couple of years ago where an American Vietnam War veteran was quoted:

    Yup.

    I have a friend who was a scout/sniper/artillery spotter and did a lot of things he now regrets. Anyhow… We were talking one time and I was telling him about “The Fog Of War” and how amazing it was* and about the bit where Robert MacNamara casually drops that they knew the Gulf of Tonkin incident was friendly fire: US Navy shooting at itself… and Stephen stops me, “WHAT?!” “Oh, shit, S. I thought you knew. I didn’t want to be the one who told you that.” He sits and says nothing for about 15 minutes, just staring at his beer. Then he says, “Trust the navy to fuck things up.”

    It’s a horrific thing to realize that the war you were sold as a great good thing was just a gigantic clusterfuck. I’m lucky, I grew up with a father who’s a historian, so there was never any question of being raised believing the reasons given by any government.If there is one lesson I could get on the curriculum of every kid, that would be it: “governments do not always tell the truth.”

  5. says

    You can tell who’s planning to start a riot by how they show up.

    Marcus,

    I just don’t fully buy into that. You wouldn’t wait, say, for a hurricane to strike a region before responding to the hurricane, would you? I would hope you would prepare for its arrival.

    If the police are expecting a riot, then I think it makes at least some sense to prepare for a riot. Now, there is a bit of a difference in that humans, unlike hurricanes, have minds of their own and there can be a problem in that humans, as you have demonstrated, can react to police preparing for their arrival.

    The main point, though, is that the police showing up in riot gear alone does not lead to the conclusion you’re drawing. You need additional premises. (Such as a government being a dictatorship, as you had mentioned earlier in the comment.)

  6. says

    I left off my footnote. 🙂

    * I highly recommend “The Fog Of War” – it’s an amazing documentary. It’s a 2 hour long interview with Robert MacNamara, who at 80-something was still razor sharp and fascinating to listen to. The interviewer is more gentle with him than I wish he was, but I am sure that was a requirement for the interview to happen. The part I think was most striking about it is that MacNamara manages to talk about the Vietnam War and somehow never acknowledges any ownership of any mistakes. You know, the whole thing just … went wrong. Nobody made bad decisions. Whoah. I imagine that if Dick Cheney were interviewed, he’d sound about the same only more belligerent.

  7. says

    The main point, though, is that the police showing up in riot gear alone does not lead to the conclusion you’re drawing.

    I don’t agree at all.

    One of the fallacies of modern policing (which also extends to a fair degree to warfare) is that immediate response is essential. That idea is based on operant conditioning models – the idea you can “train” a behavior by associating a response with an action. When the agents of the state are prepared to immediately react to something they are – one of two things – 1) trying to train whoever it is that the state will respond with unpleasantness, upping the ante or 2) they are so sure that violence is going to happen that it’s absolutely inevitable. Well, in the first case, there is a certain degree of self-fulfilling prophecy – let’s see: people are pissed off at police; let’s put 5000 armed policemen in front of them and kick the living shit out of the lot of them if one single person throws a rotten apple. It would be more rational to have the police prepared to put on their riot gear, hop in their tanks and APCs and converge on a spot where a riot was starting, and to put a media-savvy negotiator team on the spot, ready to leave if things get threatening, and a couple camera-crews to record what happens. If a full-on destructive riot is happening/going to happen (a la 30 January 1972) having police there is not going to stop it. A more rational response in that situation is to have forces prepared to protect critical infrastructure and helicopters with cameras overhead. In the day of drones, cameras, facial recognition databases, and networked communications, the only excuse for cops to be on the street in armor facing crowds is to try to repress them by kicking the shit out of them.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Chiroptera @3:

    We Americans keep thinking of Vietnam as something that happened to us when it really was something we did to them.

    Is My Lai taught in American history classes?

  9. Donnie says

    @Rob Grigjanis:

    Is My Lai taught in American history classes?

    No 🙁 We finish, barely at WWII in our high school history classes. This is mid-to-late 80s. My friend’s Dad, who had just retired from the School Board, was shocked that I had to ask him about the Tet offensive. He did not realize that the school did not teach this far into “current” history. I was also consider one of the star history students, so it was even more of a surprise that i did not know.

    The closet that I can to knowing about My Lai was when I watched Platoon with my Dad around 8x. That was the first time he ever open up to me about Vietnam. For me, Vietnam was one of those things “good students did not inquire about”.

    I have no idea about the current high school curriculum.

  10. Mano Singham says

    I did see The Fog of War. And while it was definitely interesting, I kept feeling angry at the war criminal MacNamara acting like it was all just a big mistake when it was a crime.

  11. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    People are fond of telling others that they remember well where they were when the first heard the news of [insert specific historical moment here].

    I only have one such moment that has stuck with me and that is the news that South Vietnam no longer existed as a country.

    On that particular day I was in the final week of my Gunners Mate A School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago. I remember because there were two Vietnamese sailors in my class. The commanding officer interrupted our morning session and took the two sailors out of the room to tell them that their country was gone.

    Both were given the opportunity to stay in the United States. Both opted to return to their families.

    Jeff

  12. hyphenman says

    Mano,

    Something is off with Free Thoughts Blogs.

    The comment preview function is no longer working and videos don’t play.

    I’ve turned off my ad blocker, but that hasn’t made any difference.

    Any suggestions?

    Jeff

  13. Mano Singham says

    Jeff,

    It seems to be working for me. Can you try again and let me know if there is still a problem?

  14. hyphenman says

    These three videos at Pharyngula all work fine.

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/04/30/dont-watch-this-at-work/

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/05/01/friday-cephalopod-i-just-want-to-jump-in-with-them/

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/04/30/ultron-spoilers/

    But these two on your blog come up blank (although I embeded both videos on HCWW and they worked fine).

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/05/01/the-daily-show-on-the-same-sex-marriage-hearings/ and

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/04/25/the-great-gyrocopter-escapade/

    although this video loaded just fine.

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2015/04/30/geraldo-rivera-and-fox-news-get-an-earful/

    Comment preview seems to be lost on both your blog and Pharyngula.

    I’m also seeing an odd blank spot between the first and second paragraph of your posts.

    Jeff

  15. Mano Singham says

    Jeff,

    That is strange. Everything works fine on my end, including the preview feature.

    The blank between the first and second paragraphs is where an ad normally appears, so you are not missing much there though I don’t know what is causing it.

    WordPress has made some changes in the past couple of days that caused all the formatting to disappear and the functionality is slowly being put back so I am hoping that your problem goes away in a couple of days. If not, you should send a message direct to the tech people by clicking on the ‘Tech Issues’ link just above the FtB logo on the top left.

    Sorry about this.

  16. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    Even Counterpunch scarcely has a mention of May Day. Good article by Jean Bricmont about the Fall of Saigon and how imperialism has morphed into “humanitarian” interventionism with the full support of much of the so-called “left.”

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/01/the-fall-of-saigon/

    “The end of the war in Vietnam was the end of an era, the era of national liberation struggles which no doubt constituted the most important political movement of the 20th century. In the West, it marked the start of the reconstruction of imperial ideology under the cover of “human rights”. Instead of stopping liberation struggles, the emphasis would be on subverting and destroying countries that had gained independence.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *