I am often too cynical for my own good. So I am taking time to reflect on the fact that on 1st May 1886, thousands of workers in Chicago went on strike to demand an eight-hour day. The police attacked them, their leaders were hanged, and the bosses went on the offensive. They must have thought they had achieved nothing.
But then the newly-formed American Federation of Labor took the cause forward, publicized the Haymarket massacre, and a couple of years later the Second International in Paris heard about them and decided to organize international protests in favour of the eight-hour day and the Haymarket martyrs.
Now 121 years later, May Day is being celebrated everywhere from Nigeria to Bangladesh to the Philippines to Colombia to Indonesia to the USA to right here in London and probably a hundred other countries that I’m too tired to link to, having just worked a 13-hour day (can’t win ’em all). I often find myself too scared to do anything that will put me on the line, but the Chicago workers did it, even though they were risking a lot more.
I also want to remember that all the benefits I enjoy as a worker today are due to people fighting for them in the past. I never really feel the benefits, but I’d feel them if they were taken away – pensions, benefits, safety laws, minimum wage, a host of employment laws, etc. As I discovered in a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful union fight at my old newspaper, employers will do anything they possibly can to wrench these things away. We have to cling on with all our might. We have to fight back. I just don’t know where the fight is going to come from when everyone seems too distracted by reality TV to take any interest in reality.