Saturday, April 30, 2005

May Day

Another May Day is upon us. In this age when China seems to be more capitalist than the US, one wonders what significance does this day have. I look at the day as one of commemoration rather than of any serious pro-labour activity.

We workers are much, much, much better off today then yesteryear. It's a different issue whether it can still be better. But, for our present-day comforts we definitely need to thank the unions.

There was a time when labourers toiled hours on end without any dignity, adequate pay or any comforts. It's the trade unions which brought in some balance.

Today, times have definitely changed, so too the employee-employer relationship. It's the modern management techniques that matter more.

May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries (including India) and unofficially celebrated in many more. Interestingly, it is in the US and not in any Communist country that May Day was born. And the US is one of the few countries that doesn't have a holiday on May 1.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution arguing that eight hours would constitute a legal day's work. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative efforts had failed repeatedly. With workers being forced to work 10, 12, and 14 hours a day, rank-and-file support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly.

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day protest in history. Within a few years, the fight was won.


May Day soon began to be associated with communist and socialist movement. But its potential to galvanise the workers wasn't lost on the US administration. So, very tactfully, they invented Labour Day, traditionally the first Monday in September in the US and Canada. Many US administrations have been pursuaded to shift Labour Day to May 1, but in vain.

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