On May 1, workers around the world celebrate May Day. It was born out of the struggles of U.S. workers in the 1880s. In 1889, it was proclaimed an international holiday of the working class by an international organization of socialist parties committed to abolishing capitalism. Today when workers around the world are facing challenges like COVID-19 and climate change, we need global solidarity and a convergence of working class struggles.
The struggle for the 8-hour Day
“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will,” was the slogan of the workers whose struggle led to May Day. In May 1886, workers in Chicago and throughout the country took to the streets to demand an eight-hour work day. Big capitalists brutally exploited workers, including children, and forced many to work 12 or more hours a day. Hundreds of thousands of workers, organized and ready to fight, poured into the streets. In Chicago they battled the police. This fight in the 1880s resulted in many winning the 8-hour day.
Since early in the 20th century, workers all over the world marched and rallied on May Day to celebrate the struggles and victories of the working class. And many around the world will find the way to celebrate at least digitally this year!
2019 was a year of struggles
In 2019, workers and youth all over the world effectively demonstrated that “we want a better world!”
In France, the “Yellow Vest” movement, made up of poor and working people and small business owners, protested rising taxes and the cost of living. They demonstrated every Saturday for almost a year. This was followed by a movement against the French government’s attack on workers’ pensions.
In Sudan, after the government tripled the price of wheat overnight, students, workers, and women’s organizations came together. They forced the dictator Omar al-Bashir from office after nearly 30 years in power. A popular slogan of the movement was: “Freedom, peace, justice…the revolution is the choice of the people.”
In Hong Kong, from June 2019 on, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest proposed policies which would reduce their democratic rights. Though they were met with violence and police attacks, their protests continued for months.
There were also mass protests, including strikes, over the state of the economy and lack of democratic rule in Haiti, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Millions of young people around the globe stood up every Friday and participated with millions of other people in protests against climate change.
Why celebrate a holiday during a pandemic?
Now the coronavirus has shown that those who run the society are both unwilling and unable to take the steps necessary to protect people. It has been the workers themselves who have had to fight to defend their health and lives.
The term “essential workers” is commonplace now. It is clear for all that it is the health care workers, the grocery workers, immigrant farm workers, transit workers, warehouse workers and truckers, those who produce our needed food and other goods, who make the society run.
It may seem like a hard time to celebrate. But history reminds us that things can change quickly. From Chicago in 1886 to today, the struggles of the global working class continue and we draw our inspiration from their struggles.
Happy May Day!