Happy May Day!

Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–often working ultimately for white-controlled corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of oppression they face.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    When I was growing up, strikes not uncommon among the schools, bus drivers, Boeing, construction laborers, etc., not only was Labor Day observed as an official holiday, May Day was at least addressed in the schools during the early years. The teachers had the students make artistic flower bouquets of which they were to leave at a doorstep where they would ring the door bell and knock on the door and run off. Widow’s and the like are the most important to leave the flowers for–at least many of us felt. It doesn’t seem as though May Day is important most generally and I agree that it’s been largely forgotten about or perhaps never even known of for many. With the heavy mainstream anti-union sentiment throughout the nation most generally, what can we expect? Even among those who need them most. It’s easy to force a company to go union, what is difficult, is the people–folks won’t even organize to vote or take the time to learn what unions are about (good ones). And with some of the terrible unions (I would consider scams in their truest forms and of which the workers are probably eligible for compensation through class action law suits), I can understand the anti-union sentiment among those who have dealt with such firsthand. Unions are only as good as their leadership, representation, etc. So, a definite cheers to good unions, and those that do excellent jobs in representing the workers, their wages, rights, voices, etc. And cheers to those who have made many sacrifices working union jobs as a collective, by striking (sometimes weeks and months at a time) and standing up to the employers, to demand their rights as employees are met and their wages, etc., are fair. They are the most awesome examples (both historically and into contemporary times) to our working folks in our nation, yet so invisible. So an awesome post on the positive light of unions and history above, even though my response is a day late. Though agree that racism is still an issue for sure in many union jobs. Yet, good unions can do excellent jobs at countering and combating racism.

    But, well, \../ \../ John had something to say about the working class too–so, why not a tune from Mr. Lennon of course?


  2. jwbe

    May Day in Germany has lost its traditional meaning I think and is now used by some as an excuse for their violence without a real political or social message.

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