Wobblies Reclaim May Day in Chicago

Friday, May 1 – Chicago-Over 400 people took to the streets in Chicago for the IWW-headed Radical Coalition’s March, Rally, and Noise Demonstration this May Day. The event was the largest distinctly anti-capitalist local showing in recent memory. 


Called by the Chicago GMB in late 2014, the Chicago May Day Radical Coalition brought together 10 organizations in an effort to facilitate collective decision making and revitalize the historical working class spirit of International Workers’ Day in the holiday’s birthplace. The Coalition members, consisting of unions, leftist organizations, and affinity groups, agreed to a set of principles, including refraining from sectarianism, appealing to reformist legislative solutions, and agreeing to to the promotion of direct action.

After months of planning, the Coalition was met by hundreds of supporters turning out for the announced march starting in Union Park on May 1st. Black and red flags and bandannas were distributed to participants as police staged around the mass. The Chicago Police Department staged by the dozens, but their showing was quickly dwarfed by a sea of red and black. Though the crowd’s diversity allowed Syndicalists, Communists, Anarchists, and unaffiliated rank-and-filers to coexist throughout the day, the heavy-handedness from authorities that Chicagoans have grown to expect was strangely absent.


Police kicked off the May Day weekend with an attack on the Chicago GMB’s annual fundraiser concert. State officials issued the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, whose union hall would be hosting the GMB’s benefit event, three Cease and Desist orders mid-week leading to May Day. The Orders were written targeting the May 2nd show, effectively shutting down the anticipated musical follow-up to May Day. In conversation with UE officials, Chicago GMB officers were told the Chicago Police had made an in-person visit the day prior to issuing the C&D Orders, where CPD accused the IWW of being an organization that “causes civil unrest.” Officers of the Chicago GMB and other Coalition organizers found this attack to be a source of strengthened resolve and promptly responsed via social media, ultimately drawing more attention to the May Day events.

Shortly after the march left Union Park,CPD forces gave way to the crowd. National Lawyers Guild representative relayed to organizers the intent of the Police, to “avoid anything like Baltimore.” NLG contacts also relayed that the two target destinations had closed their doors early in anticipation of our arrival. It was clear by this point that the months of work put in by organizers had paid off; the City was afraid of the potential of May Day once again.

Organizers navigated the crowd to the first scheduled stop: The Mexican Consulate. Member organizations staged in front of barricades enclosing the Consulate’s front doors on the Near West Side for a short speak-out addressing concerns over 43 disappeared students, calling for a moratorium on deportations, for free movement of people, for an end to state terror on both sides of the border, and calling for a showing of solidarity with international working class struggles. While speakers shouted through bullhorns, activists plastered images of the disappeared students on the walls and windows of the Consulate.

The march continued throughout the West side to the Cook County Jail and Courthouse, arriving at roughly 5:30pm. Cook County Jail is the largest holding facility in the US, covering over 96 acres in the heart of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Over 100,000 people pass through this institution annually. The Courthouse had been preemptively shut down by City officials at 2:30, so the demonstrators took this time to enjoy a meal provided by Pilsen Food Not Bombs and listen to short speak-outs from the Coalition members and individuals. While some sat to eat, the black and green flags of Vegan Antifascists stood firm in surrounding streets and held traffic at a standstill.

As demonstrators cleared their plates and speakers left the stage, Food Not Bombs distributed pots and pans for a noise demonstration in support of the incarcerated workers at Cook County. Starting with the main holding facility, the remaining 100-200 people used drums, cookware, sticks, and bullhorns to make as much noise as possible, then chanted in support of those inside. Shortly thereafter, the crowd shifted across the street to the much heavier-policed female lockup, where the crowd grew increasingly loud as incarcerated workers waved bedsheets and clothing in the windows. Demonstrators collectively shouted to them that they were not forgotten, and that we would not rest until all their cells were empty.

May Day served to show Chicagoans what we had known all along; Chicago has a thriving anti-capitalist community that is more than ready to burst out of dormancy. Organizers saw just as many new faces as familiar ones, and many attendees stated they were galvanized by the Chicago GMB’s efforts. As a city, we saw how we can come back stronger after what seems like a critical blow is dealt by authorities, and we saw that it can only happen with solidarity across the broad scope of the working class. This year, May Day was about more than having a local scene or coming to a single event, it was a part of laying out the foundation for a community, and a much more powerful movement.

Called by the Chicago General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, the 2015 Chicago May Day Radical Coalition consisted of: The American Party of Labor, Chicago Socialist Party, Pilsen Food Not Bombs, Feminist Uprising Resisting Inequality and Exploitation, Chicago Torture Justice Memorial, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Moratorium on Deportations, Semillas Autonomas, and the Gay Liberation Network.


More information can be found at May1Chicago.org and Facebook.com/May1Chicago


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