When I was a kid, May 1st meant giving and receiving May Day baskets from my friends. Today it just means I have to pay my rent.
But for the world, May 1st signifies a beautiful fight – one that has for over a century stood for the rights of workers and an end to their exploitation.
International Worker’s Day began in the late 19th century when American workers were in the midst of a struggle for the eight-hour work day. This effort, amidst terrible working conditions, grew to become a larger struggle for labor rights, and through growing organization and energy it became an ongoing fight that created a movement.
On May 1st, 1885, a general strike was called against the railroad empire, and 200,000 workers across the country went on strike while thousands more flooded the streets in protest. The country’s elite poured thousands of dollars into fighting the workers and their comrades. Police brutality in combination with a corrupt justice system that sentenced 8 people to die for an incident at a labor rally created a culture of fear and suppression against those fighting for justice.
This war continues today as workers continue to fight for labor reforms. As Verizon workers and countless others have gone on strike in the past year, a movement against the ongoing backlash on America’s workers has been growing. Unions have joined forces with grassroots activists in the Occupy movement to fight against state legislation being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization made up of corporations and legislators who write and promote extreme right-wing legislation. The majority of voter suppression laws that have swept the country in the past year were written and promoted by ALEC, as have most anti-union, anti-environmental, and anti-regulatory legislation. Countless states will vote this year on laws that could make collective bargaining and the formation of unions even harder than it already is. Job cuts and austerity measures around the world have put the growing working class in an increasingly exploited and oppressed position.
May Day is a much-needed celebration and call to action for all those in solidarity with workers to stand up for labor rights: to fight for equal pay, for fair wages and safe working conditions, for full employment, and for the right of each worker to have a voice in the conditions of their workplace.
The fight on May Day is a fight for economic justice; it is a fight for a better world.