On May 1 Ohio State students, union members, and leftist organizations celebrated International Workers' Day by marching to three institutions on campus that are oppressing their workers: a Verizon Wireless store, a Wendy's restaurant, and OSU's Ohio Union.

When President Obama issued an upbeat Presidential proclamation about Loyalty Day last week, he left out the dark history behind the national observance. In 1958 Congress introduced Loyalty Day as a tool of anti-communist propaganda at the height of the Cold War, when countless leftists in the U.S. were persecuted for their political beliefs.

The Los Angeles Times notes:  “It's no coincidence that Loyalty Day falls on May 1 or ‘May Day,’ a celebration of workers around the industrialized world observed on the anniversary of the 1886 Haymarket Square incident in Chicago — when four people were executed on the strength of murky evidence that they killed eight people (seven of them police officers) during a labor rally for the eight-hour workday.”

Although May Day (also known as International Workers’ Day) was inspired by an event in the U.S., thanks to this revisionism it virtually disappeared from the American consciousness for decades, until the Occupy movement identified capitalism as the cause of economic crises and escalating economic inequality.  

Since Occupy, International Workers’ Day celebrations have become increasingly popular in the U.S., especially among a younger generation who did not grow up with Cold War propaganda, who believe that a socialist world can be realized without repeating the mistakes of the Stalinist and Maoist regimes.

Sunday, May 1 marked the 4th annual International Workers' Day celebration in Columbus.  Ohio State students, union members, and leftist groups celebrated May Day by marching to three campus institutions that are oppressing their workers: a Verizon Wireless store, a Wendy's restaurant, and OSU's Ohio Union.

“I would not be fighting to get an education if it wasn’t for my mother’s struggle to come to this country and working three low-paying jobs to support my family,” said Central Ohio Worker Center organizer Jessica Camacho at the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 4320 union hall at the start of the march. “We are the product of the revolutions of our past. Our future depends on our continuing the fight!”

In April several student groups at Ohio State coalesced under the hashtag #ReclaimOSU to protest their university’s privatization of its workforce. A new hashtag was coined for Sunday’s May Day march — #ReclaimColumbus — to protest the stranglehold that corporate interests have on the political and economic landscape of Columbus.

“Workers and students identify closely with each other because we know what it feels like to owe our labor to those in power,” said OSU student Twinkle Panda. “We’re going to keep pressuring the university and the Columbus government to raise the minimum wage, to listen to worker and student voices.”

To survive during the Cold War, labor unions were forced to distance themselves from the radical socialist roots of the labor movement. But a new openness to socialism is making union members bolder about reclaiming their heritage.

Glen Skeen, vice president for CWA Local 4320, spoke about his union’s strike against Verizon on the east coast. “They’ve forced these 40,000 workers out because they don’t want to employ those folks any longer. We see the writing on the wall,” he said.

Skeen quoted Mother Jones, co-founder of Industrial Workers of the World: “‘Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.’ It’s time that we started fighting like hell for the living again,” he said. “If we don’t start fighting back, we’re not going to get our $15 an hour. It’s not going to be an accident. It’s going to be because we started our own revolution!”

“The fight for student power and the fight for worker power are the same fight,” said Coco Smyth of #ReclaimOSU. This is a working class university, and we’re going out into the capitalist marketplace to be exploited.”

Participating organizations included Ohio for Fair Food, Ohio State Student/Farmworker Alliance, Jobs with Justice, Ohio AFL-CIO, Central Ohio Labor Council, Communication Workers of America Locals 4501 and 4320, Socialist Alternative, Jewish Voice for Peace, Yes We Can Columbus, Move to Amend, Committee for Justice in Palestine, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Socialist Organization, Real Food Challenge, Redbird Books to Prisoners, Ohio State Student Coalition for Black Liberation, and Still We Rise.

Scenes from the 2016 International Workers' Day march in Columbus.