What kind of May Day could we have in 2025? Skip to content

What kind of May Day could we have in 2025?

On this Workers’ Day, Berry Craig thinks back to another May Day, and muses what kind of “celebration of workers” we might have if Donald Trump is reelected.

6 min read
Communists and trade unionists were among Hitler’s first targets. Here, Nazis rally in front of the headquarters of the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1933 in Berlin. Slogans on the building include: Against war, fascism, hunger … for work, bread, and freedom (photo by Robert Sennecke, [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

On this May Day, I'm thinking of May 1, 1933.

May 1 has been the international labor day since the 19th-century. But ninety-one May Days ago, a European country’s new leader proclaimed May Day a national holiday in honor of workers, many of whom belonged to unions. It was a brutal hoax.

The country’s powerful unions had outspokenly opposed the new leader’s rise to power. He hated and feared them. 

But soon after he took power, he shocked the unions by promising them he’d be on their side. To show his government’s “solidarity with the worker,” he flew union leaders from across the country to the capital city; they were to help him celebrate the new “Day of National Labor,” an author wrote. 

The leader had the capital decorated with “thousands of banners” lauding workers, according to the author. The leader planned to greet them at the airport “for the greatest mass demonstration” the country had ever witnessed. Before the festivities began, the leader met with worker representatives, promising them, “You will see how untrue and unjust is the statement” that he aimed to destroy the unions, the historian added.

In a speech before “more than 100,000 workers at the airfield,” the leader “pronounced the motto, ‘Honor Work and Respect the Worker!’” He vowed that May Day “would be celebrated in honor” of the country’s workers throughout the centuries,” the historian wrote.

On May 2, he stunned the unions again. He ordered police and the Nazi paramilitary SS and SA to raid “trade-union headquarters throughout the country.” They seized union monies and arrested a number of union leaders. Many of them were beaten and thrown into concentration camps, the author explained.

The leader was Adolf Hitler. The country was Nazi Germany. The story of Hitler’s destruction of Germany’s unions comes from journalist William L. Shirer’s book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was famous for his CBS radio broadcasts from Berlin from the late 1930s through December, 1940, three months after World War II started.

Hitler outlawed the free and independent unions, and replaced them with the bogus German Labor Front, a Nazi puppet organization. The Front’s job was to squeeze more and more production out of German workers and enforce their obedience to their bosses and, most importantly, to him.

The Labor Front's head pledged “to restore absolute leadership to the natural leader of a factory – that is, the employer.”

Right-wing German industrialists and business leaders eagerly embraced the Labor Front. Many of them were enthusiastic Nazis who helped bankroll Hitler.

Of course, Germany’s free trade unions were the antithesis of Hitler’s fanatically anti-democratic and homicidal anti-Semitic ideology, which led to his conquest of much of Europe to the Holocaust, the murder of six million European Jews.

The past, and present, are replete with far-right-wing dictators and strongmen — and would-be dictators and strongmen — who preach their undying support for workers, but practice the opposite.

Sometimes, they leave a paper trail that clearly illustrates their true opinions of organized labor.

In Mein Kampf, his infamous autobiography, Hitler hinted at creating the Labor Front. “Marxism has made [the union] ... an instrument for the Marxist class struggle,” he wrote. “Marxism created the economic weapon which the international world Jew uses for shattering the economic base of the free, independent national states, for the destruction of their national industry and their national commerce and, accordingly, the enslavement of free peoples in the service of supra-state world finance Jewry.”

Donald Trump’s pro-worker words don’t match his deeds. The most anti-union president since Herbert Hoover, he supports “right to work.”

Mein Kampf — first dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic — turned out to be the blueprint for Nazi Germany. The far-right-wing, pro-Trump Heritage Foundation has published what may be a blueprint for a second Trump term. Titled Project 2025, it’s online.

“If Donald Trump wins the White House in 2024, loyalists have written a battle plan for how to change labor laws and regulations: make it harder for workers to form unions, make it easier for companies to classify employees as independent contractors, and ban the government from collecting race-based employment data in the name of stopping anti-discrimination lawsuits” wrote Noah Lanard in Mother Jones. “These policies would be combined with a grab bag of culture war items — like a push for companies to close on the Sabbath — so that Republicans could portray themselves as a traditionalist, but still pro-worker alternative to Democrats.”

Wrote Rebecca Gordon in truthout: “... it should be no surprise that Project 2025 wants to reduce the power of unions in a number of ways.”

Gordon pointed out that that Project 2025 calls for “amending the National Labor Relations Act to allow ‘Employee Involvement Organizations’ to supplant unions. Such ‘worker-management councils’ are presently forbidden for good reason. They replace real unions that have the power to bargain for wages and working conditions with toothless pseudo-unions.”

Added Gordon: “Ending the use of ‘card-checks’ and requiring elections to certify union representation. At the moment, the law still permits a union to present signed union-support cards from employees to the National Labor Relations Board and the employer. If both entities agree, the union wins legal recognition. The proposed change would make it significantly harder for unions to get certified, especially because cards can be collected without the employer’s knowledge, whereas a public election with a long lead time gives the employer ample scope for anti-union organizing activities, both legal and otherwise.”

According to Gordon, Project 2025 says “individual states” should be permitted “to opt out of labor protections granted under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act.”

Concluded Gordon: “The measures covered here are, believe it or not, just the highlights of that labor chapter of Project 2025. If put into practice, they would be an historically unprecedented dream come true for employers, and a genuine nightmare for working people.”

In addition, Convergencemag.com is out with a video outlining what’s in it: “The right to strike, the eight-hour day, and the minimum wage have only been recognized by federal law since the 1930s. Even those basic protections come riddled with loopholes. Important groups, such as domestic workers and agricultural workers, are excluded. Now the right wing has its sights set on stripping away those rights won by more than a hundred years of hard organizing and bloody battles. Project 2025’s ‘Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise’ spells out just how they would do it.”

Don’t take my word for what’s in the Project 2025 tome – Landard’s, Gordon’s or truthout’s either. Read it yourself.

Meanwhile, trade unions and their allies in some U.S. cities and in democratic countries across the globe are celebrating today with parades and other programs. Here is my small western Kentucky town, I'm standing in spirt with international unions, especially those in Germany who are united in the Deutscher Gerwerkschaftsbund, or German Confederation of Trade Unions. 

The DGB works to “ensure that work and income are distributed fairly and that everyone has the same opportunities. Along with our eight affiliated trade unions we ensure a local presence throughout Germany. With our services, we help to achieve fairer conditions in the workplace. We support workers in asserting their rights, articulating grievances and mobilising others to fight for better working conditions – also out loud, on the streets. Putting workers at the front and centre is our mission.”

The AFL-CIO strives to put workers up front, too, which is why the country’s largest union organization endorsed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris again. 

“There’s absolutely no question that Joe Biden is the most pro-union president in our lifetimes,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler explained. “From bringing manufacturing jobs home to America to protecting our pensions and making historic investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and education, we’ve never seen a president work so tirelessly to rebuild our economy from the bottom up and middle out. We’ve never seen a president more forcefully advocate for workers’ fundamental right to join a union. Now, it’s time to finish the job. The largest labor mobilization in history begins today, supercharged by the excitement and enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of union volunteers who will work tirelessly to re-elect a president they know has our backs and will always fight for us.

“There’s never been an election more critical to the future of working people. Worker organizing is happening at a pace not seen in decades, from coffee shops to tech to higher education to the manufacturing shop floor. The transition to a clean energy economy and historic federal investments in good jobs creates the opportunity to transform the economy for generations to come. But this promise will only be realized if President Biden and Vice President Harris are re-elected to another four years.”

Our free, democratic trade union movement is strong on this May Day. But so were Germany’s free, democratic unions on May Day, 1933.

Their destruction serves as a stark warning for 2024. Think the same can't happen to our unions? Think again, read Project 2025 and, this fall, vote like your union depends on it, which it does.


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY