It’s May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day. In some cultures it is a spring celebration day, and in others it is a public holiday meant to reflect upon the plight of the working class. Here in the U.S., May Day 2012 is simultaneously a remembrance of the workers’ movement and a day of organised demonstrations to protest government and corporate policies that infringe upon workers’ rights.
The history of International Workers’ Day began with worker suppression. In 1886, in an effort to disperse a crowd assembled for a general strike to fight for the eight-hour workday, Chicago police fired on workers and killed dozens of demonstrators. As is often the case, history repeats itself; around the world, workers and those who disagree with “ruling class” tactics are still fighting some of the same battles of yesteryear. The right to assemble peacefully, bargain collectively, and be protected from police, corporate, and government interests that seek to strip away hard-won workplace safety and environmental regulations, healthcare, and compensation packages are still being challenged.
Strict austerity measures imposed in European cities; inequitable pay and the desire for minimum wage increases in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan; and government labourer protests in India show that workers around the world are facing similar challenges. These are important issues that deserve attention on more than just one day each year. For those who are rolling their eyes thinking that yet another Occupy-style protest will inconvenience us by blocking traffic, or that those union folks are ‘being disruptive,’ keep in mind that without their efforts, most of us wouldn’t have employer-based healthcare, family and medical leave, child labour laws or even a 40-hour work week — and SO much more.
When you’re at your job today — if you’re fortunate enough to have one — give some thought to the fact that too many workers are still just one paycheck away from financial disaster. Standing up for the rights of workers is one important way to stem the tide of financial ruin and, in the process, rebuild nations.