In Canada, we celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday of every September. But that isn’t the only day set aside to recognize the historic struggles and gains made by workers and their unions.
Today, May 1, millions of workers and organizations around the world are celebrating International Workers’ Day, which is also known as May Day.
The roots of May Day stretch back nearly 150 years to what’s known as the “Haymarket affair” in Chicago. It was 1886, and on May 1 workers in a number of cities launched a general strike to demand an eight-hour work day.
On May 4, violence broke out during a rally. A bomb exploded and police opened fire — more than a dozen were left dead.
Thankfully, workers and union activists today in Canada don’t often face the same level of violence as they push for better working conditions and better services. But as anyone who has ever been on a picket line or in a demonstration knows, nothing is ever guaranteed. The threat of violence is very real to workers and labour activists in many parts of the world who are resisting anti-labour governments. And of course violence in the workplace is still a reality in Canada.
Over the past month-and-a-half, we’ve faced a new and even more deadly threat: COVID-19. Let us take advantage of this May Day to again honour our front-line heroes who are keeping Ontario functioning in the face of this threat.
On this May Day, we honour the sacrifices made by the workers who came before us, and pledge to carry on the struggle to ensure that all workers around the world have the safety and respect they deserve.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida