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Looking back at the historic May Day

By Nalifa Mehelin
Thursday, May 2
We always used to have a holiday for May Day or Labor Day, as it is called in many places. When I was a student, this holiday made little impact and was just like any other holidays. Now that I am working, the prominence of the day has multiplied into greater extents. “Workers of the world, unite!” was one of the most pertinent slogans that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels bestowed upon us. While navigating different sets of problems each passing day, we hardly realize all the given privileges earned by these movements. Today, as we are observing May 1st, looking back to the historical significance of May Day, can make us more aware of our rights and privileges.

May 1st, 1886 was the date when workers came out to the streets of Chicago to protest for an eight-hour workday. On average, the general consensus was to work for 10-16 hours per day. Industrial Workers of the World: A Union for all the Workers echoes the sentiment, “More than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history.” Later on, to pay the due tribute of the Chicago protest, May 1 was chosen as the International Workers’ Day in the late 19th century by socialists, communists and trade unionists.

The exploitation of labor came as a standardized by-product of capitalism. As capitalism is gaining momentum, it is extracting every ounce of energy and effort from the workers. In order to protect the rights of the workers regarding wages, occupational health and safety, and demands, there is no alternative than unions. A strong, precise, and just union can help to put forth the demands of the workers. Labor Day takes us back to the strengths of those unions. Although in many workplaces workers are still struggling to maintain an eight-hour work shift and often require to work more than eight hours. Nonetheless, the presence of such a day creates awareness about the rights of the workers.

A lot has been improved since 1886. We still have a long way to go. Specific attention is needed to eradicate discrimination and ensure safety. The selective discrimination towards female workers in terms of wage need to be addressed. The lack of occupational health and safety measures in several parts of the world should be brought into attention. Opportunities should be available to workers irrespective of their race, religion, sexual orientation, and any other exogenous factors. The employment schemes should take into account the overall well-being of the workers. The countries who are accepting refugees and immigrants should provide equal wage labor opportunities to the vulnerable target population of refugees. The age gap between genders should be improved and mitigated.

Labor Day ignites the spirit of righteousness among us. That what is just and fair should be ours, those uncomfortable situations demand a staunch and loud shrill rather than suffering in silence, and that with unanimous rebellion we can earn our rights. May we always remember the teaching of this great movement.

Nalifa Mehelin works as a foreign correspondent for The Messenger. She focuses on economic policy and development.