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May Day

Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might
Take the wealth that you are making,
It belongs to you by right.
No one will for bread be crying
We’ll have freedom, love and health,
When the grand red flag is flying
In the Workers’ Commonwealth.

Welcome to May Day.

Ever wonder why Labor Day is celebrated on May 1? Here’s probably why:

In 1884, in the U.S., an organization of trade and labor unions demanded an 8-hour workday. Up until then, workers had been routinely made to work upwards of 10 hours a day, some up to 14 hours. The demand had a timetable: make an 8-hour day the legal work day from (and forever after) May 1, 1886. Hence, for most of the world, Labor Day.

Why the U.S. doesn’t celebrate it on May 1 is probably related to the fact that the 8-hour workday movement that attached so much significance to May 1 also eventually involved a virtual bloodbath.

Since the demand was first voiced in 1884, it quickly gained many adherents and by April 3, 1886, more than 200 thousand workers were openly supportive of the idea. By then, many businesses and industries had already adopted the 8-hour day. Unfortunately, on May 3, 1886, a strike was broken up with gunfire. Four dead, and many wounded. The following day, another rally was held protesting the previous day’s brutality.

Everything went peacefully enough, but near the end, 180 cops marched in to disperse the crowd. Someone then threw a bomb into the ranks of the police killing one and injuring seventy. Predictably, the cops opened fire, also killing one and injuring many.

And so, May Day shouldn’t just be considered a holiday from work. Rather, it should be used as an occasion to remember that us working stiffs didn’t always have it so easy, and that when those 1880’s versions of us put their minds to it, they were able to make change happen. Even if they paid such a ghastly cost for it.

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that such a thing could be possible again. But the lesson stays valid. We may just be worker ants laboring for a Queen; but we outnumber the Queen a gazillion to one. All we really have to do to make change is learn the trick of having a gazillion ants working together as one.

Imagine that.


Filed under: musings, society, , ,

One Response

  1. cvj says:

    I recently heard an Executive talk about ‘work-life integration’ to replace ‘work-life balance’. I think for white-collar workers at least, there is a move to go back to how things were before the 1880’s.

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