By Peter Drier
Beaver County Blue via HuffPost
May 1, 2013 – Unlike the rest of the world’s democracies, the United States doesn’t use the metric system, doesn’t require employers to provide workers with paid vacations, hasn’t abolished the death penalty, and doesn’t celebrate May Day as an official national holiday.
Outside the U.S., May 1 is international workers’ day, observed with speeches, rallies, and demonstrations. This year, millions of workers in Europe, Asia, and Latin America are taking to the streets to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. A week after a building collapse in Bangladesh killed hundreds of workers in sweatshop factories making clothing for American and other consumers, thousands of garment factory workers in Bangladesh paraded through the streets calling for work safeguards and for the owner of the collapsed building to be sentenced to death.
Ironically, this celebration of working-class solidarity originated in the US labor movement in the United States and soon spread around the world, but it never earned official recognition in this country. Since 2006, however, American unions and immigrant rights activists have resurrected May 1 as a day of protest. This year’s rallies have a special urgency. For the first time in decades, a bill for comprehensive immigration reform, which would bring many of the estimated 11 million living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows, has a good chance to pass Congress. In cities across the country, millions of Americans will be out in the streets today to give voice to the growing crusade for reform.
The original May Day was born of the movement for an eight-hour workday. After the Civil War, unregulated capitalism ran rampant in America. It was the Gilded Age, a time of merger mania, increasing concentration of wealth, and growing political influence by corporate power brokers known as Robber Barons. New technologies made possible new industries, which generated great riches for the fortunate few, but at the expense of workers, many of them immigrants, who worked long hours, under dangerous conditions, for little pay.