“Resolved, That the first day of May of each year … be designated as the Labor Day of this organization, and that the members of this organization be urged to cease all labor on that day and carry out exercises appropriate to such a day for the education of the working class as to their rights and interests on the economic and political fields.”
On the fifth day of the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, delegates debated the question of an official Labor Day for the organization. The first of May was chosen democratically, with the minutes showing a deep disgust felt by most delegates at the demonstrations of labor peace that had come to define the first Monday in September in the US (here is a contemporary example). The dissenting minority argued from practicality. So much awareness and energy was already bound up in the national holiday that to pursue another day was folly, they said. Over a century later, both groups were right.
Workers in the US and Canada should, in general, join demonstrations on Labor Day in order to meet fellow workers where we can find one another. At every opportunity, we should join fellow workers to discuss what it means to be workers. May Day is not as widely observed, recognized, or known in North America as its nationally designated Labor Day. But it is and must remain the official Labor Day for our organization.
By and large, American workers are demobilized and unorganized. We quit before we form committees. Membership numbers fluctuate wildly among the many organizations trying to gather enough of us into one place to tap our dormant, collective power. Internally, growth is enthused over and attrition rationalized away. Only a few principles distinguish the IWW from the many groups recruiting workers. In this environment, the best strategy for retention and potency is a well-defined organizational identity.
Workers in countries all over the world observe International Workers’ Day on May 1, making the date more international than North American Labor Day. Maybe more importantly, May Day is less associated with the public displays of affection among union leadership, politicians, owners, and bosses that characterize North American Labor Day events. Keeping it as the union’s official Labor Day fits the unique solidarity that the IWW advocates. From the IWW’s founding, our design has been to join together workers from all countries, of all colors, genders, sexes, and all compatibly inclusive and tolerant creeds.
Many of us in the US and Canada will work on Labor Day – responding to wage incentives or cost of living pressures, or because we are scheduled and expected like any other day. Many others will take a well-needed opportunity to relax. For the rest, the best activities would be to cheer on the former and motivate the latter. Let us not forget or take for granted the struggles and gains of workers who came before!
That said, Labor Day events in 2022 are being disrupted by ongoing public health concerns. Industrial Worker encourages readers to wish North American fellow workers a happy/fightin’ mad Labor Day and to join us on the first of May as well. We support more days and not fewer “to cease all labor … and carry out exercises appropriate … for the education of the working class as to their rights and interests on the economic and political fields.”
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to represent that of the IWW or Industrial Worker as a whole. Industrial Worker wishes all in North America and internationally, a happy Labor Day.