Each year on May 1st, rallies, protests, and demonstrations take place worldwide in celebration of working people and their continued fight for rights in the workplace. This year, while many are quarantined at home, thousands of workers — nurses, grocery employees, postal workers, transit workers, and more- are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This May Day, we’d like to take time to reflect on the first International Workers Day and look ahead at the fight for better working conditions in a time of uncertainty.
May Day itself is rooted in ancient pagan tradition and became associated with International Workers Day in the late 19th century. At a time when American industry flourished, workers endured economic hardship, poor working conditions, and rampant economic inequality. On May 1st, 1886, workers nationwide began striking for an eight-hour work day. On May 4th, after days of pro-worker rallies in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, police and protesters clashed. While it is unknown who instigated fire, shots were exchanged, and soon a homemade bomb detonated in the square. With hundreds injured, seven police officers and four workers lay dead. In a severe miscarriage of justice, seven labor activists were prosecuted and sentenced to death without evidence. In 1893, socialists and unionists around the world began celebrating May 1, or “May Day,” as an international workers' holiday.
Over the years, May Day has remained a celebration of workers, but it is also a call to action. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers the world over are fighting for basic on-the-job protections. Masks. Gloves. Soap. We must call on Congress and the state of Oregon to provide protections for those on the frontlines. And at a time when our immigrant community is more vulnerable than ever, we must call on the federal government to supply additional federal support to those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic and who have no access to unemployment benefits.
TELL CONGRESS TO PROTECT FRONT-LINE WORKERS
Undoubtedly, this year’s celebration will look different than years prior. Streets won't be filled with banners or megaphones, community groups, or coordinated chants. However, supermarkets will still be filled with grocery workers, stocking shelves and sanitizing carts. Construction workers will still be paving our roads. Transportation workers will still drive their daily route and maintain vehicles. Farmworkers will still be working tirelessly to put food on our nation’s tables. Millions of frontline workers will still be risking their lives around the world. Our frontline workers mattered before COVID 19- and they will continue to matter when this is over. Let’s show up and demand action.