Born in the U.S.A: What May 1st means

Devin Griggs || Opinion Editor


Across the globe, the first of May brings demonstrations, parades and celebrations. Why is that, you might ask? May 1 is the traditional “Labor Day” for just about everywhere in the world outside of Canada, Japan and the United States, all three of which celebrate Labor Day in the fall. Known around the world as “International Labor Day”, “International Worker’s Day”, or simply “Labor Day”, May 1 commemorates the fight for the eight-hour workday and the killing of workers that protested for the eight-hour day (among other things) at Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4, 1886 (following arrests made of striking workers on May 1, 1886).

This year, the Occupy movement has called for a general strike on May 1st, a “day without the 99 percent” to send a message to the political elites in the United States and around the globe that the public stands in opposition to the austerity measures being pressed forward by just about every industrialized nation-state. Regardless of whether or not the Occupy movement’s protest is successful, if bringing “May Day” back into the political lexicon and reminding the public that the rights we have on the job were rights that our forefathers and foremothers fought and died for are successful.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. Even though the eight-hour day and the forty-hour workweek were not legally established until 1938, the protests of 1886 that pushed the political debate in the direction of reform made that reform inevitable – and it was all because people got involved, got organized and pushed the debate in the direction of reform. The Occupy movement might not be successful in the short-run, but the Knights of Labor did not succeed in getting the eight-hour day in 1886; those who came after it, however, in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) did. Occupy is building the base from which future movements will make their demands a reality. Rome was not built in a single day, and the battle for a more equal distribution of wealth will not come overnight.

While it is depressing to some extent that the reforms that Occupy wants to see happen might take some time (even as far in the future when the 20-somethings that lead the movement are old enough to run for office), they don’t have to if committed people get involved and get organized to push those reforms. The success of democracy lies in the people, and unless we the people get organized and get serious about pushing for reform, we’ll either have to wait it out or watch as a more organized (and possibly more sinister) counter organization gets its way in Washington.