On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers across the United States walked off the job to participate in the first May Day celebration. At the time, it was not uncommon for people to work 10 to 16 hours a day, often in unsafe working conditions. Two years earlier, at its national convention, the precursor to today’s American Federation of Labour, had called for an 8-hour workday to start on May 1, 1886. Despite the fears of many politicians, business owners and police that the day would be filled with violence, the first May Day celebrations were entirely peaceful.
May Day became established as an International Workers’ Day and is even an official holiday in 66 countries. The first Monday in September marks this country’s official celebration of labour rights, although it is seen by many primarily as the last long weekend of the summer with more political events taking place on May 1st.
From May Day to M’aider
Today, community activists, labour organizations, anarchists, communists and others are engaging in rallies, marches, barbecues and musical events across Canada and around the world in Spain, South Africa, Cuba, Poland, Russia, France, Germany, Cambodia, Bangladesh and many other countries. As these events celebrate victories won for workers, they are also calls to action for such basic worker rights as a living wage, safe working conditions, affordable health care, child care, health benefits, pensions; the right to have a job at all.
And that leads me to wonder when we think of May Day this year might we also be invoking the international alarm for the most serious level of distress: May Day! May Day! May Day! (from the French m’aider).
We – all of us — need to step up to aid our planet, not just today on May Day, but every day and not just for the struggles of workers but for the struggles of all oppressed and marginalized peoples and for the struggles of all forms of life on a planet that is so clearly in a serious state of distress and so clearly calling for help.
See you on the picket line!