Celebrate May Day
It Celebrates You.
April 26, 2018


On Tuesday, May 1, millions of working people throughout the world will observe and celebrate May Day.  In many countries, it is Labor Day, or International Workers’ Day.  On May Day, we honor the sacrifices and contributions of the working class and the labor movement to society. 

On May 1, 1886, unions across the US went on strike to support a bold new concept – an eight-hour workday.  The International Workers of the World – the Wobblies – sponsored rallies in many cities, including Haymarket Square in Chicago.  On May 4, someone threw a bomb into the crowd and the police opened fire.  In the end, twelve people died, including seven police officers, and more than 100 were wounded.  Eight demonstrators were tried for murder.  Four of them were executed and one committed suicide in prison.  The government never produced any evidence that those convicted had any part in the actual bombing, or even knew the bomber. 

The trial received worldwide attention – and this was in the time before television, internet, and telephones.  The international labor movement used the Haymarket Riot incident as a springboard to rally people to support workers’ rights and began its annual observation of May 1 as “May Day”.  The International community celebrates it with rallies and speeches on the value of labor.

In those times, all attempts to improve conditions for poor and working people were branded as “socialist” or “communist”.  The Labor Movement, especially in the United States, has progressed in fits and starts, until recently.

Labor unions brought benefits to every working person in America, whether they belong to a union or not.  They are primarily responsible for establishing the middle class.  We take these things for granted, but none of them existed before the rise of the unions.

• An eight-hour workday
• A five-day work week
• Paid sick days, vacation days, and holidays
• Family and medical leave
• Health, life, and disability insurance
• A pension
• Safe and healthy working conditions
• Proper job training

Unions have won the minimum wage, wage and hour laws, child labor regulations, and workers’ rights and privacy on the job.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers make more money than non-union workers in all types of occupations.  Union workers are better trained and less likely to be involved in workplace accidents and deaths. 

If you benefit from any of these things, then THANK A UNION MEMBER.

While the working class in nearly every other country advances, American workers are under attack like no time since the robber baron days.  There hasn’t been a raise in the federal minimum wage since 2009.  The gap between workers’ and owners’ paychecks grows daily.  “Right to Work” laws proliferate in state legislatures.  The middle class loses ground every day.  And who is working for us?

Many established powers tried to interfere with May Day celebrations because they feared these new ideas.  They wanted to replace a political observance with a religious one or a legal one.  In 1955, Pope Pius XII proclaimed May 1 as the feast day for St. Joseph the Worker.  In 1958, the U.S. Congress designated May 1 as “Loyalty Day”.  Congress also established May 1 as Law Day in 1961. 

Even though May Day observances began in the United States, other countries primarily call it Labor Day.  May Day is important in most of the world, but the US doesn’t pay much attention to it.  We celebrate our Labor Day in September, though that’s usually more picnics than reflection because conservatives insist on endowing it with the horrid tinge of (eeeekkk!!!!) SOCIALISM.

Most of the developed nations will observe with peaceful marches in major cities.
The IWW Wobblies plan a march and rally on May Day in Washington, DC.  There may be a few events scattered around the country, but there really isn’t much to report. 

In Pittsburgh, the Thomas Merton Center will host a May Day event in Lawrenceville. 
Or you can hold your own.
Gather some friends, neighbors, and co-workers for a small local celebration.  Increase it every year.  Make your own tradition.

Begin by joining the IWW.  Yes, it’s still active and their headquarters are still in Chicago. 
Any working person can join, whether the union has bargaining rights at your workplace or not.

Oh, and by the way, the eight-hour workday became standard – along with laws requiring overtime pay – in 1938, fifty years after the Haymarket Massacre.  Because the workers didn’t give up.

Don’t you give up either.

For More Information
International Workers of the World
Wobblies 2018 March
Labor Unions:  Myths and Facts
Right to Work is a Scam

Thomas Merton Center May Day Event

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Patricia A. O'Malley
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