International Workers' Day - May 1st

May Day March in Melbourne, Australia. Protesters hold up a large red sign that says 'Workers of the World Unite.'
Johan Fantenberg | CC BY-SA 2.0

➡️  International Workers' Day, May 1st - Labour Day

Workers' Day, also known as Labour Day or May Day, commemorates the labour movement's struggles and achievements, particularly the fight for an eight-hour workday.

The date became internationally recognised in 1886 when a peaceful rally in Chicago turned violent. The aftermath led to a wave of international protests and the cementing of May 1st as a day of solidarity for workers around the world.

Since then, the organised labour movement has transformed the world of work – reducing hours, improving conditions, and winning new rights for millions of working people.

Today, Workers' Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggles for fair labour practices and workers' rights all over the world. As many countries designate this day as an official holiday, workers often use this opportunity to organise strikes, demonstrations, and collective bargaining for better working conditions and pay.

Trade unions play an important role in advocating on behalf of workers. They will often use this day to bolster the labour movement by encouraging greater membership, celebrating their achievements, and reminding us that the fight for social and economic justice is not over.

“Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!” - Karl Marx

Discover comprehensive guides to the work of trade unions in the UK and the U.S. as well as social justice in general and related workplace issues. - Please share this Labour Day resource via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!


Image of NHS protesters fighting for fairer pay at a demonstration in London. In the foreground is a blue poster which says 'NHS fair pay now' and Big Ben is in the background
Flickr | Chris Marchant

What are Current Challenges Facing Workers?

The creation of the welfare state was one of the major successes of the labour movement in Western countries. It represented great progress in people's general quality of life including working conditions, health, life expectancy, and social security.

The growth of the trade union movement meant that new relations were made through market regulations, public ownership, and democratic control. Unions now represent a serious threat to capital interests.

Despite the successes of the labour movement, our profit driven society and ongoing class exploitation means that workers are still drawing the short straw. Modern labour issues include the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, youth unemployment, the gig economy, the living wage deficit, exploitation of migrant workers, child labour, forced labour, and the use of sweat shops.

  • Globally, women still get paid 23% less than men, creating a lifetime of income inequality

  • In 2022, almost 1 in 4 young people were not in any form of education, employment or training

  • The majority of gig economy workers earn significantly less than the minimum wage

  • 50 million people worldwide are trapped in modern slavery

  • 85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15 and 25

  • 250 million children between 5 and 14 are forced to work in sweatshops for up to 16 hours per day

  • Covid-19 cost women globally $800 billion in lost income in one year

  • Top executives got a real-term 9% pay rise in 2022 while workers worldwide took a 3% pay cut 

Rising inflation, cost of living crises, and the spiralling cost of food, rent, and house prices, has created a world which is simply unaffordable for the average person. The divide between the rich and poor and has never been more apparent.

The dire state of economic inequality was summarised in an Oxfam report which revealed that in the last 2 years, the richest 1% earned nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world put together.

The NHS strikes and rail strikes in the UK are evidence that workers are tired of low pay and poor working conditions. In recent years we have witnessed airline and air traffic control strikes across Europe, the French pension strike, and teachers and university strikes across the world. The U.S. has seen union resurgence of Starbucks and Amazon workers, as well as Hollywood writers strikes, and U.S. auto workers strikes.

Workers are demanding the right to minimum as well as maximum hours, to holiday leave and sick pay, maternity and paternity pay, a living wage that reflects the state of inflation and the housing market, healthcare benefits, and job security.

The number of workers on strike in 2023 tripled when compared with the previous year. Unions have become more powerful, are seeing greater levels of success, and this is further emboldening others to voice their frustrations. Despite membership numbers still being relatively low and the introduction of anti-strike laws by governments, trade unionism is experiencing a revival few thought possible.


Unite protesters gather at a demonstration for better pay and conditions. There are huge red balls which say Unite in the air and many people are holding Unite banners and flags
Garry Knight | Public Domain

Workers’ Day for a Better World

The biggest strike in world history came in 2012 when 250 million Indian workers from banking, transport, retail, public services, construction, and industry blocked highways and railroads for 24 hours.

The workers were protesting Prime Minister Modi’s anti-worker legislation, privatisation plans, high levels of unemployment, spiralling inflation, and low pay. The strikes gained massive international support and showed the world the power of collective action.

We must fight the assault on workers' rights, support unions, and resist attempts by governments to strip our right to protest and strike. The working class throughout the world together can defeat the grips of capitalism and globalisation.

This Workers Day, many organisations are taking the opportunity to call on workers to unite in support of Palestinian rights and an end to the war in Gaza. Our collective voice is the strongest bargaining chip we hold against global powers and greed.

“The working class deserves respect, fair wages, and the opportunity to thrive.”Bernie Sanders

Author: Rachael Mellor, 28.04.24 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

For further reading on International Workers’ Day see below  ⬇️

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