Greatest holiday nobody’s heard of
On International Workers’ Day, thank your neighbor for the work they do
May 1 is known as Labor Day around the world but barely noticed here in the country whose Haymarket activists it honors. So what is it?
Most people can’t imagine that it would be legal to require working 90-100 hours a week. May 1, 1886—now commemorated as International Workers’ Day—was a day of a national strike for 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses—the culmination of 20 years of organizing and agitating for an eight-hour day.
Imagine a nation where employers paid less than a $1 a day for 12-hour days, where immigrants were paid less than 35 cents for that same work. These conditions and the brutal, murderous response of corporate owners to people organizing to better their lot were the seeds and water that produced the strikes of 1886, seen as the turning point in the demand for shorter workdays without shorter pay.
History shows that the newspapers of the day, at the bidding of the robber barons and trusts, denounced the strike as “without real merit,” conspiracies of “communists” and “foreigners.” The corporate press tried to suppress any knowledge of the National Labor Union of 1867 and the Knights of Labor, as well as the successful strikes by these U.S.-born and immigrant workers.
History also shows that, although the corporate owning class tightened its grip on our economy, it failed to prevent our wins in work hours, in work safety for millions of women and men of all ethnicities. We as working people have struggled—sometimes unsuccessfully—to overcome the structural racism and sexism that the rich use to divide us. And every time we use our great power for our benefit, we move forward individually and collectively.
Today small farmers, social justice movements, unions, immigrants and gig-economy denizens are mobilizing for redress of grievances and for the piece of the pie our labors have made.
So this May 1, renew an old tradition. Thank your neighbor for the work they do. Thank the postal workers, teachers, nurses, clerks, food workers, building and road workers. Celebrate our day.
The Labor and Social Justice Cooperative has created a benefit concert for KZFR on May 3, 7:30 p.m., at the Chico Women’s Club featuring local musicians and spoken word/storytellers. Join us.