The May Day Celebration event held at Portsmouth Square April 28 marks the first time that working people came together to celebrate this important event in an open outdoor park in the heart of the Chinese community. This is a great step forward for the progressive workers movements today.
In its planning stages for the May Day event, the committee faced many difficulties, both within and from reactionary forces who are opposed to the awakening of a workers movement in Chinatown. There were threats and harassment by the reactionary forces, but no real damage was done because the workers were prepared to deal with all the difficulties. The spirit and determination of the committee can be seen in the following speech, given by the representative from the Chinatown May Day Committee at Portsmouth Square. (This is a slightly edited version of the original speech.–Ed. Note)
Fellow laboring brothers and sisters and friends:
Today’s gathering is a pre-celebration organized by the Chinese workers and organizations in Chinatown to celebrate this year’s May First International Workers Day. We hope that through today’s celebration we can arouse the feeling of many more workers in Chinatown, and raise our consciousness of our status as workers. Also we express unity with all other Third World workers and the entire working class of the U.S. and all over the world. On May 1, 1886, 35,000 Chicago workers struck to demand better working conditions and to win what they called the 3-8 system: “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what you will I” They mobilized a big strike and workers all over the country participated. Through much bloodshed and sacrifice the workers finally won the right to organize. The result was that many workers Joined labor organizations. This struggle, which is beneficial to laboring people everywhere, won the support of labor organizations all over the world. The 3-8 system later on was adopted by many other countries.
The fact that the Chinese workers in America have long suffered oppression, discrimination and even murder is well known by everybody. The labor unions which claim to represent the workers, not until recent years began to allow Chinese workers to join. However, the Chinese workers were determined not to be bullied and submissive. We have had many struggles which are worthy of praise. The struggle which has the most significance is the one of June I867, in which 10,000 Chinese railroad workers organized themselves and went on strike to demand from the Central Pacific Railroad Company more pay and fewer working hours. Recently in San Francisco’s Chinatown there have also been many struggles by Chinese workers, such as the Nam Yuen Restaurant’s busboys’ struggle, Asia Garden waiters’ struggle, and last year the S.F. Gold Sewing Factory Chinese women workers’ struggle. It should be noted that all the struggles mentioned were finally won by the workers. As for Chinese workers’ organizations, there was a Chinese workers’ Co-operative which was formed on Stockton Street in San Francisco in 1937. It was organized by a group of the Chinese Alaskan Cannery workers. This co-operative made many contributions to the Chinese workers. It also played a leading role in the Chinese workers organized movement. At present many workers in Chinatown are still being oppressed and are receiving very little wages or security in return for their labor, especially the Chinese women workers in the sweatshops in Chinatown. Besides receiving meager wages in bad working conditions, they have to work more than 10 hours in order to earn a decent living. This and other unfair labor conditions must be corrected and bettered.
To celebrate the workers’ day naturally leads us to think of the relationship between labor and society. From where, in fact, does the world’s prosperity and riches come from?, we ask. Some people say it’s from that which is provided by capitalists. But some people say that it’s created by labor. Of course the truth is not so difficult to distinguish. Let our vision travel as far as the cross-country railroad and as near as that building in front of us, which by the way was originally proposed as low-cost housing for the Chinese and was later on used for the Holiday Inn. If it were not for the blood, sweat and sacrifices of the laboring people, it is certain that these two constructions would never have been built. Then if this is true, is it not also true that we, the laboring workers, should receive the fruit of our labor? Unfortunately, the situation is just the opposite. If we compare the wages of the workers and the profits of the capitalist, we can easily come to this conclusion: The fruit of the workers’ blood and sweat is turned into profits by the capitalists, who return to the workers just enough to sustain them as workers.
Fellow laboring brothers and sisters, is this fair? Of course not. This is unfair. This is inhuman. In the past the laboring people have united together and continually struggled in many forms to demand basic necessities from the capitalist. They have done so in the past. We now and in the future should also do the same. The important thing is that we, the workers, must unite. Unity means strength.
Therefore we who live in the U.S. should every minute pay attention to the workers’ struggle, regardless whether a victorious struggle, a defeated struggle, a small struggle or a big struggle. We must pay attention and be concerned with them. Every struggle is related to the Chinese workers themselves. We must also regard each day as workers’ day. We must remember the struggle of the International Workers’ Day, its spirit and its meaning. We must also study friendship and love of class. Unite together and struggle together. Finally, let us call out loud these two slogans:
Labor Creates All Wealth.
Unity is Strength.