Several times over the last few years I have participated in a Mayday pageant here in Anchorage. This is a staged reading of a script written by a local National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) staff attorney. The narrative traces the development of the american labor movement from the Knights of Labor in the nineteenth century through the 1930s, focusing on two key moments in the history of american labor unions: the Haymarket events in 1886 and the passage of the Wagner Act. It is a fun occasion where participants include labor union members, folks from Occupy Anchorage, and other local troublemakers. It is an opportunity to interact with other union members and movement activists and provides a bit of generally unknown and ignored labor history to those who attend. And to my mind, the positive depiction of anarchists in a performance geared toward regular working folks is more than welcome.
However, despite his largely accurate retelling of the circumstances surrounding Haymarket and sympathetic portrayal of the libertarian workers and organizers involved, I disagree completely with the primary message that the author wishes to convey to the performers and audience—that the National Labor Relations, or Wagner, Act (NLRA) is the logical and appropriate culmination of the efforts of the radical labor movements of the past. (more…)