About this event
International Workers Day or May Day, as it is often known, is celebrated across the world. With its origins in the national and international workers organisations of the 1900’s, the day celebrates the victories, international solidarity and continued struggle of the working classes.
Inaugurated by the Second International, the 1st of May marks the day of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago 1886. During worker’s protests for an 8-hour working day, police fired on a crowd of protesters, killing 8 people and injuring 115.
Since then the day has been observed by worker’s organisations and countries all over the world with the day having particular significance in Soviet and post-Soviet countries. It is, to this day, one of the most important holidays in China.
How to approach it
This is a great day to introduce students to the vital contribution that organised workers have made to the rights and privileges we all enjoy, both in the UK and abroad. These organisations were regularly at the forefront of progressive change from winning votes for women and the working class to building the welfare state and social security systems worldwide. It’s great to explore historical examples of this such as the struggle for the women’s vote in the UK, the Chartist movement, the trade union movement and more. The Working Class Movement Library has excellent resources on this that we link to below.
Unions and organised workers continue to be incredibly important today. Take the chance to go through some modern examples of worker organisations, why they exist and what they have achieved. You could cover for example the reasons and tactics behind the recent unions forming at Amazon and Starbucks. Or you could cover 2020’s 250 million farmer’s strike in India and their big win against the removal of agricultural trade protections. Help students to understand the modern challenges that workers face from unstable, low paying jobs to mass firings and how organising together can help prevent these things.
Do you know what a ‘union’ is? A union is an organisation of people who work in the same company or the same industry. Workers form unions in order to help each other and to demand better working conditions. Unions helped to set up the NHS and get women the right to vote. What do you think can be improved about working conditions today? How do you think workers could join together to improve things?