Celebrating May Day at a U.S. Army base in Italy
Italian workers rally on May Day. | via berlinguervitavivente.it

I worked with a guy named Irving Taffler in Brooklyn politics in the early 1970s. After a long day of door-to-door campaigning together for a progressive challenging a right-wing New York State assemblyman, we sat down for some cool drinks at the campaign headquarters in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. After he lit his cigar that evening of April 30, 1972, Irving asked me if I wanted to hear a good story about May Day, which was coming up the next day of course. Irving has since passed from this life, but he and his story live with me forever. Here it is:

U.S. Army Sgt. Irving Taffler, stationed at a big American base in Italy after World War II, was ordered by his colonel to go out and hire 200 Italians to staff the facility. Taffler, a proud member of the Communist Party USA, went to the local Italian Communist Party office and put out the word about available jobs. A week later, the U.S. base was staffed by 200 communists and their supporters.

The only problem was that operations halted when May Day rolled around because not one of the Italians showed up for work. They were all at a rally in downtown Milan. When the colonel demanded an explanation, Taffler said, “Oh! This is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, so probably everyone’s in church.” Lucky for Taffler, the colonel bought his explanation because the Church had, indeed, tried to co-opt May Day by making it a “Saints’ Day.”

Saint Joseph the Worker with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, c 1635. | Public Domain

Years earlier, back in the U.S. where May Day originated, there had been attempts to kill the workers’ holiday by creating a new one altogether—Labor Day in September.

The workers of the world, of course, have held onto both May Day and the struggles connected with it. What started as a strike demanding an eight-hour day in Chicago in 1886 is now the most widely celebrated holiday and day of struggle on earth.

Rightly so, because workers in today’s global economy face challenges bigger than ever. Transnational monopolies exploit the cheapest labor they can find, creating misery in the developing world, slashing jobs and wages in the developed countries, and, in their insane drive for profits above even life itself, endangering the very existence of our planet.

But workers aren’t giving up—not on May Day and not on the struggles it represents. Unions are forming global organizations. Labor and its allies in the U.S., including many in Congress, are pushing to curb the U.S.-based transnationals and to protect the rights of immigrant workers victimized by corporate globalization. Together, they are trying to fashion a Green New Deal, and most importantly they are rejecting the racism, division, and hate fostered by the Republican Party.

This May Day, more than ever, workers will join hands with their brothers and sisters all over the world, marching, rallying, and celebrating. This united action is the ingredient that, as sure as the sun comes up on May 1, will bring to birth a better world.

Happy May Day everyone!

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.