At the Koffee Klatch the agenda items tick off until magically we come to May 1st
May day which Tina the Manna minister who speaks Spanish and English
with a British accent says is International Worker’s day and one of the oldest
if not the oldest coffee klatchers, a woman who lives in Dorchester someplace
between Shawmut and Ashmont stations says that May 1st is “Law day” and so
afterwards I ask her if they really still celebrate “Law Day” when all I can think
of is Stone Soup Poetry founder Jack Powers who every year would celebrate
May 1st as International Worker’s day and decry Labor Day as a capitalist roader
conspiracy to bury the very real history of the Haymarket General Strike that shut
down Chicago and large portion of industrial America demanding the 8 hour day
that eventually led to the 40 hour week. The police shot into the crowd killing
demonstrators and a few days later the strikers gathered to protest the killings
and someone threw a bomb into the crowd killing more demonstrators and a
policeman so, of course, they arrested the leaders of the movement and even though
some of them were not even there when the bomb was thrown they all were convicted
at a show trial and then sentenced to death. Three were hanged and one cheated
the hangman the night before by suicide. Three others were eventually pardoned.
This U.S. movement became the celebrated cause for the 8 hour day all over the world
and in 1890 the 1st International made that demand at a time when 12,14, even 19 hour
work days were common. Jack Powers always connected the Poetry readings at Stone
Soup to that movement yet as I talk to my Dorchester neighbor at the church Koffee
Klatch suddenly I’m struck because all the new jobs in the last economic recovery from
the last “Great Recession” are part time, fill-in, temporary and very, very contingent
and they make sure no one ever gets 40 hours a week or benefits much less time and
a half overtime or perish the thought double time and lo and behold the guys in green
eye shades have turned our May Day victory into labor days that never end, never end.


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.