May Day 2023

Same as it ever was, May Day is an international day of protest for workers rights.  Below is a picture of a march in France, where people are protesting against raising the national retirement age to 64.

In France, protests against Prime Minister Macron’s reform plans, have stretched on for months–with no signs of influence on anything yet, except encouraging more protest.

In the United States, where by design we have a different day for workers (Labor Day)May Day always seems like an opportunity to organize and demonstrate around a somewhat related cause, with or without the support of organized labor.

Workers, organized and otherwise, have plenty of issues in the United States these days. Hollywood screenwriters are about to go on strike in response to their worsening prospects in a stream-centric entertainment world. Campaigns for raising the minimum wage at the state level have met with some success in some states. Unionization campaigns have succeeded at a couple of Starbucks and Amazon sites, but every subsequent site is a battle. Graduate student researchers and teaching assistants have launched unionization campaigns and strikes for better contracts with some success–including at the University of California. Here at UC-Irvine, the unions won substantial raises, and the University is responding by cutting the number of graduate students admitted and teaching assistants assigned. There are no easy battles.

Successful campaigns have increased the number of unionized workers in the United States, bucking the trend of the past 70 years or so, but the percentage of American workers in unions continues to decline.

The graph below charts the rate of union membership since 1983. It’s hard to miss the trend line–and it’s worse for private sector workers.

May Day is an obvious time to take stock. Journalists look for labor stories that are normally undercovered on May Day (and even on Labor Day), and organizers work hard to fill the space.

May Day is an opportunity to organize and say something, reminding the rest of the world that constituencies and concerns remain vital and potentially volatile.


About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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