Why May Day?


Since the Second International dubbed May 1 International Workers’ Day, the workers holiday has been an occasion commemorated by people the world over. Although May Day has not carried the same resonance in the U.S. as it has abroad lately, the unofficial holiday’s origins are undeniable.

May Day’s underlying themes — solidarity and class struggle — have always proven to be effective tools in the hands of the American working-class, which has wrenched reforms from the grips of a reluctant capitalist ruling-class. Eight-hour workdays, unemployment insurance,, collective bargaining, pensions, the eradication of child labor, and minimum wage laws are just several of the many reforms working people have won through organized struggle.

Nineteenth century abolitionist Frederick Douglas’s thoughts about the means to achieving change, delivered in a speech in 1857, undoubtedly carry the spirit of May Day:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Russian revolutionary and leader of the Bolsheviks Vladimir Lenin, 1896 May Day leaflet:

“We can look to no one for aid; we can only rely upon ourselves. Our strength lies in union; salvation in united, stubborn, and energetic resistance to our exploiters. They have long understood wherein lay our strength, and have attempted in all manner of ways to keep us divided, and not let us understand that we workers have interests in common.”