Revolution Then! (Conservation Now?)
In May 1886, American workers rallied in Chicago in support of the demands for an 8-hour work day. Referred to as The Haymarket Affair, it would become the origin of The International Workers’ Day. Also known as Labour Day, or May Day.
On this day, today, in 2006, I was present during Fidel Castro’s last Labour Day speech in Havana, Cuba. While The Revolution he brought to the Caribbean Island was lauded and praised with repetetive chants of “viva la revolucion” from El Jefe himself, as well as the crowd, the speech was among other things, largely about the case of Posada Carilles, a political hot potato for Cuban-American relations at the time, and about the increase in the price of eggs, and the power blackouts which haunted the country.
A lengthy speech introduced with a damning indictment of USA and Posada Carilles, and continued with addressing economic and practical issues that, well, didn’t really come across as all that revolutionary to a 21 year old.
As the commander in chief got older, and as the revolution becomes more and more a thing in the distant past, the efforts to maintain the revolution’s name and image, as in “long live the revolution” – seemingly sowing a romantic view of it (as all revolutionaries in all revolutions, do) in the minds of the people who weren’t there to witness it, as well as prolonging the legacy of the revolution he brought to Cuba, seemed more like a repetition of slogans, and telling the youth of the accomplishments of the past, rather than inspiring the kids to repeat it if they saw it necessary.
While Communism in 99% of the places it has been introduced, has led to disaster for the freedom of those who did not adhere to it, Cuban communism is nothing like Soviet communism. Where Soviet had systematic murder and forced labour camps for those disagreeing, Castro did indeed imprison dissidents, but did not have anything like the Soviet Gulags. Even if you would face prison, opposing the government was not a death sentence. There was also a blatant, not-so-very-discreet, black market for cigars and rum, private enterprise if you would, running behind the official outlets in Havana, run by people unafraid to flaunt apparent wealth most people did not have. Wealth that in the Cuban economic model, could not have come from legal work.
As for social reforms, from what I gathered as I spoke to the people I met, from all walks of life, there seemed to be some sort of economic equality in Cuba. Whether you were a surgeon, a road worker, or rolling cigars at the Cohiba factory, you got your $20 a month.
Which brings us to the spirit of the day. Labour laws, and rights. The Labour Movements’ old adage “equal pay for equal work” rings true for anyone with any decency. However, all work is not equal. The benefit a surgeon, for example, brings to a community, outweighs that of a worker rolling cigars at a factory.
One saves lives, the other makes a product, which, while it looks good on photos and is enjoyable with a drink, is hazardous to your health. And while lung cancer in Cuba is not a death sentence, after they developed a vaccine, but a manageable chronic illness, it can be argued for the case, that certain types of work indeed should be rewarded more than others.
How? By the measure of benefit it brings to society. And while business leaders, politicians, journalists, doctors, nurses, teachers, waste management workers, and people working construction sites, all alike, all may argue that their work is the one that brings the most benefit, the value of any given career path should of course be measured and rewarded by the level of skill it takes to do it well; but also, if not primarily, the societal value it holds.
The argument as to exactly who does the most important job in the world, I’ll leave to someone else. But it’s worth noting that without farmers, none of us would eat. Unless you somehow are self sustained with food, in which case, you are a farmer or a hunter / fisherman yourself.
Should farmers be the financial elite of the world? In Norway, they used to be. Cue the pitchforks and tractor-exhaust scented torches.
The trip to Cuba was made with the Norwegian Trade Union College. Mostly a vocational school, with students in media subjects, but also with programs in international politics and current affairs. The school is run by The Norwegian Trade Union (LO), and is, obviously, influenced by the Labour Movement’s ideology of solidarity with the working man and the oppressed people of the world. At home and abroad.
In Europe and the US, May 1st is usually day of marking the rights achieved for workers, and demonstrating for the rights in regression or yet to be achieved, as well as voicing concern for oppression in various areas of the world.
Another thing that the children of the Left have a knack for, is revolutionary ideas. The most noteworthy revolutions of the western- and nearby world, were all rooted on the left wing of the political spectrum. And while some, like in the Soviet Union, were Utopian projects that went horribly wrong, others, such as The American Revolution, The French Revolution, the ideas of Free Love and Flower Power promoted by the Hippie Movement in the 1960’s and 70’s, and the International Labour Movements themselves, were all started and carried out by the radicals of their age.
All of them violently opposed, some of them responded violently, but the ones that did not have an aim of overthrowing or separating from their rulers and taking power themselves, did not employ violent means to achieve their goals.
The ladder, however, were still persecuted and put under surveillance. The first labour guild in Norway was started by Marcus Thrane in 1848. Thrane was along with hundreds of members of the various branches of organised workers, interrogated to uncover whether they had conspired to commit revolution in their meetings.
149 people were eventually found guilty and convicted of either disobedience to the authorities, or of trying to change the governmental branch through illegal means, the ladder of which, Thrane was convicted of. Marcus Thrane’s case went to the Supreme Court in 1855, and the court ruled that the conviction should be upheld. Today it is clearly seen that the Supreme Court convicted some of the key figures, and Marcus Thrane especially, without finding him guilty of any act punishable by law.
A quick introduction to the beginnings of the Norwegian Labour Movement, and on to it’s current state of affairs:
Labour Day is no longer a day exclusively for people with left wing sympathies. Right wing populism has appropriately appropriated the day, to promote their own policies. Former Minister of Justice, Sylvi Listhaug, who has marked herself as a hardliner on immigration, now a member of the health committee in the Norwegian Parliament, still sees her opportunity to turn both health policies, and labour day into an immigration issue.
And as the head of her party, Finance Minister Siv Jensen, was quoted stating “they might be Norwegians on paper, but not in their hearts” about, apparently, people like me, the new radicals seem to be the right wing kind. The established Labour Party hegemony that held power in Norway for 40 years, has all but crumbled and the people who held the roles of the revolutionaries of the past, has become the ones wanting to conserve the radicalism of the past, against the radical conservatism of the present.
As the meme goes: WTF mate?