Today we celebrate May Day, or International Workers' Day.
On 1 May, 1886, labour unions in the US decided to go on a strike demanding that workers should not be made to work for more than 8 hours a day. Just three days after the strike began, a blast occurred in a public workers' rally in Chicago's Haymarket Square, leaving many dead.
To honor those who died in the blast, May 1 was declared as a day designated for labourers.The commemorative day was established in 1899, and gradually spread to other parts of the world.
In the United States however, the Government decided only a few years later that “Labor Day” should replace May Day and a new holiday was created and celebrated in September. This was done to deliberately sever ties with the International Workers celebration for fear it would build support for Communism and other “Radical causes”, which I am sure included what we know as organized labour, or unions.
That's enough history, let's fast forward To May Day 2020.
Thanks to COVID-19, public celebrations are a non-starter so we will celebrate virtually. There are lots of things to be concerned about for workers right now, but there have been some glimmers of hope arising from this crisis. Many governments and employers are cooperating on behalf of workers in new ways and agreeing to things unions have demanded for ages. Things like greater flexibility with work hours, the ability to work from home, quicker medical accommodations for those who need them, subsidized child care, and pay increases. We have seen much more collaboration and willingness to work in creative new ways with Labour.
Why is that? I am optimistic and I believe that thanks to the pandemic, the health and well being of the workforce and the community at large is (occasionally) taking precedence over "management needs".
When this Pandemic is over, we expect governments and employers to protect these positive changes. We won't accept a return to lax oversight of occupational health and safety regulations and practices. We won't accept the wages of critical front-line workers being rolled back to pre-pandemic levels. Not now, not once we have all acknowledged the essential role played by retail clerks, janitors, shelter staff, truck drivers, nursing home-attendants, food service workers and all those who are critical to keeping our society functioning.
These workers are often in precarious jobs, and are the people generally paid the least in our societies, but their value to our lives is glaringly evident. So let's honour their work and importance by making sure we continue holding them up. Once this is over and the new normal emerges, let's make sure the workers of this world are recognized and their is value reflected in their working conditions and pay.
And maybe by this time next year we will have much more to celebrate.
Please stay healthy and stay safe.
Happy May Day,
Steve Geick, President
Yukon Employees' Union