Enjoy your long weekend, it was hard-earned

1 May

Happy 1st May everyone!

Hope you all enjoy the long weekend. I hope those of you going to the march in central London today have a productive day.

I remember when I was 15 or so I first became aware of May Day. I remember that being the first time that I understood it as International Labour Day rather than just another bank holiday. I remember watching the protest on the news. I wished I could have gone but had no one to go with. I remember watching the march congregate in Trafalgar Square, and then a few hours later I watched the police move in to violently clear the area, bundling people down side streets. It made me so angry.

Since then I’ve been to many May Day marches. Every time the overwhelming feeling is one of anger. Not usually anger directed towards the police, but more at the groups waving pictures of Stalin, or Lenin, or Mao. How do these people come to terms with the histories of these individuals? How do they get to a position of advocating policies, which when previously attempted, caused death on a mass scale, and a slashing of people’s liberty. It makes me sick.

But what are we really commemorating with May Day? Why do Trade Unionists, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists and all other hues of red still turn out in their thousands? What can bring these groups that disagree fiercely with each other (and with good reason) together for a day?

International Labour Day commemorates the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886. A massive worker’s movement had grown around the fight for the 8 hour working day. Two years earlier, the worker’s organisations declared that they had exhausted all legal means of fighting for their demands and called strike action. The started on 1st May 1886 and was greeted by violence from the government. Government officials had worked together with the businesses effected to pay for more police to be drafted in. On 3rd May police opened fire on a peaceful, unarmed demonstration, killing 4 and injuring more. A rally was called in defiance of police violence. Again the police opened fire killing and injuring many more. The police claimed that a grenade had been thrown from the crowd, killing one of their officers. Following from this, 8 labour leaders were arrested and charged with the death sentence. 4 were hanged in November 1887. 1 committed suicide in prison and the others were pardoned 6 years after the hangings.

Labour Day is a commemoration of the bravery, strength and innocence lost within the labour movement, in the ongoing and international fight to end labour exploitation. How much do most of use take the 8 hour day for granted now? Not everyone in the UK has an 8 hour day. And the global fight continues. The National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, for example is fighting on this now. Suma, who was interviewed when she visited the UK on a speaker tour just over a year ago said,

 Many garment workers work for 12 to 14 hours a day, from 8am to 10pm, often for seven days a week to complete an order. Holidays and time off are ignored in many factories. My husband, who also worked at a garment factory, died as a result of a factory fire. I got no maternity leave during my pregnancy, no compensation for the death of my husband. I didn’t even get medical leave while suffering from jaundice. My pay is so meagre that I cannot afford to keep my child with me – she lives with my mother in a village.

So don’t forget this weekend, that people fought and died for us to work no more than 8 hours a day. They fought for sick pay, they fought for holiday pay, they fought for fair wages. And when there’s a strike that disrupts you, remember, you might not have had to participate in one yourself but you have certainly reaped the benefits.

Enjoy your long weekend. It was hard-earned!


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