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May Day - the strength of collective power

Also known as International Worker's Day, May Day is a chance for the labour movement across the world to celebrate the core values that trade unionists stand for.

What is May Day?

May 1 represents the struggle and great success of the American labour movement in 1886, fighting for the eight hour working day.

The US unions launched a general strike to demand a limit to impossible working hours and conditions, fundamentally changing millions of Americans’ working lives for the better by winning greater work/life balance.

May 1 is now a public holiday in many countries with marches and rallies organised in most major cities around the world (although Labour Day is celebrated on 1 September in America).

Here in Britain, it was Prime Minister, James Callaghan, who in 1978 created the bank holiday on the first Monday in May to coincide with International Workers’ Day. However, the trade union movement continue to celebrate on the 1 and there are May Day rallies taking place across Britain today.

May Day

“A Garland for May Day,” cover design for The Clarion, 1 May 1895. From Walter Crane, Cartoons for the Cause: A Souvenir of the International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress, 1886-1896

'It's a day to remember the struggles for dignity and justice at work that have gone before'

So why do we still need it?

Workers today continue to face threats on all fronts; the global pandemic, ongoing structural racism and the rise of the far right, ever growing inequality and the climate crisis.

We know that there are still huge injustices and inequalities to be eradicated. Too many people stuck on poverty wages, too many women denied equal pay, too many people in our ethnic minority communities whose lives are blighted by discrimination and disadvantage, too many unemployed and millions of workers, especially young workers, suffering the curse of zero hours contracts.

On May Day remember we are part of a global movement and our collective power is our greatest strength.

The London May Day March and Rally has its origins in the first global mobilisation for May Day in 1890. It remains a time when trade unionists peacefully celebrate our achievements, when we recommit to achieving economic and social justice for all, and when we express our support for those throughout the world who are struggling for basic rights.

'May Day is a moment to remind ourselves, that when workers come together across borders, no-one can keep us down.'

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