Friday, May 05, 2006

May Day

by Lilja

In May 1886, U.S. workers went on a general strike in their struggle for an eight-hour workday. The authorities broke up the strike and hanged strike leaders, yet the movement inspired workers all over the world. Three years later, May Day was established as an international holiday, a day where workers all over the world can organize, reflect on past struggles and voice their demands together.

Yet, I was surprised to find out that May 1 is not a federal holiday here (it was moved to what is now called Labor Day in September, a holiday celebrating BBQ and baseball, or so it seems). However, I did have the opportunity to celebrated May Day the way I always do: in the street raising my voice with others for what we believe in. I marched almost every year of my life: for the 37-hour week and then for the 35-hour week, against the nuclear weapons race and for peace, for employment for all and, this year, for immigrant rights.

The experience was very moving, feeling the energy of 30.000 people as excited as myself. And Seattle is a much better place to march than flat Berlin, because from the hill tops on 20th and again on 15th we could see this huge crowd filling Jackson Street all the way down to the water front. The fact that we marched for immigrant rights on May Day is not unique to the US, where it was triggered by the new immigration legislation. People all over the world seem to recognize that stable employment and workers rights are so closely linked to human rights and social justice, both at home and abroad.

Around the world, these were some of the slogans that brought people together to celebrate the day of the workers this year:
Spain: “For peace, stable employment in equality”
Germany: “Your dignity is our measure”
Switzerland: "Raise wages- wage equality now”
Chile: “For more democracy and more social justice”

Even the issues at the workplace itself are somewhat different, as the way work and production are organized is changing. In response Europe’s May Day is renewing itself. There are less and less “traditional” workers, those that have fixed contracts and the bargaining clout of a union membership. The marches I attended in Berlin had become smaller in the ’90s; the unions were losing members, and fewer young people came out.

Today more and more people make a living through temporary contracts, flex-time and part-time jobs, along with the ever-growing group of unemployed and undocumented immigrants. That makes it really hard to voice and defend our rights. Yet despite the difficult situation, temps, part-timers, students and eternal interns, immigrants and unemployed are increasingly organizing. This Monday they filled the streets of Europe’s major cities voicing demands and needs that reflect the new working and living conditions.

Some of the issues the EuroMayDay Network stands for are:
- EU legislation that extends protection and benefits to temporary workers
- Freedom of movement for migrants
- Generalized access to affordable housing
- European minimum wage
- A basic European income, provided by the state to all citizens to cover everybody’s basic needs
- Free access to culture and information, culture as a human right not a product

What is important enough to you these days that could bring you out into the streets now or next May Day?


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