International Workers Day: Memorable Protests

Protest, National Workers Day
Protest, National Workers Day

Each year on May 1, people across the globe commemorate International Workers Day to honour the struggles felt by workers and labourers around the world. Tara Pilkington reports.

In many countries, International Workers Day, also known as May Day and International Labour’s Day, is an official holiday, and for labour rights campaigners it holds particular significance.

Each year, International Workers Day is marked with a mixture of celebrations, protests and strikes. This year, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many are protesting a lack of protective gear for key workers and well as insufficient sick leave, amongst other things.

In honour of International Workers’ Day, here are some of the most memorable and significant protests that have taken place:

  1. On May 1, 1886, thousands of workers across the US went on strike to protest poor working conditions and to demand an 8-hour maximum workday. By May 4, crowds had gathered in Chicago’s Haymarket Square for a major union protest. Police were called in to keep the peace, until someone, and history does not reveal the name of the person, threw a bomb into a huddle of police, killing 7 and wounding 67. Police retaliated by killing between 4 and 50 people while injuring a further 200. This protest consequently strengthened the position of the unions and sparked the beginning of modern labour demonstrations. 
  2. In the US in 1971, under the presidency of Richard Nixon, protests in Washington spanned several days and included civil disobedience against the war in Vietnam. It is estimated that 10,000 troops and mass arrests were made, which prompted accusations of civil rights violations.
  3. In 2016, large May Day protests took place around the world including the Turkish city of Istanbul, where anti-government protesters clashed with police while trying to breach the ban on access to the main Taksim Square.
  4. Also in this year, labour unions in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, took to the streets with a march to call on the government to reduce working hours and increase wages. 
  5. On 1 May 2019 in Paris, after ongoing protests from the Yellow Vest Movement, protestors from Yellow Vest, along with climate change protests and anti-capitalist Black Bloc protestors joined together to protest amongst other things the government’s recent tax reforms, arguing that these reforms were only of benefit to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The movement started by the Yellow Vests has changed the conversation around workers rights, not just in France but all over the world.

Adapting protests to the current climate, this year many workers are engaged in a mass ‘sickout’ and exercising their right to refuse unsafe working conditions, according to one statement from Whole Foods workers. Protestors are asking consumers to not use these services for the day in a show of solidarity.