Though the COVID-19 pandemic has made our traditional forms of celebration impossible in most parts of the world this year, our spirit of solidarity will not be vanquished this May Day as we recommit to the urgent struggles for justice, equality and peace.
Today is also the time to think about those who cannot celebrate May Day including all the workers who have lost their lives due to COVID-19. And politically, as the global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism has intensified with China’s crack-down on all forms of democratic expression in Hong Kong and with the Myanmar military dictatorship’s murderous assault against its own people in order to maintain its repressive control, workers in Hong Kong and Myanmar are denied their right to participate in May Day.
As we grieve the 3 million sisters and brothers we have lost through the pandemic, we must also focus on the lessons we have learned this last year. COVID-19 has been an accelerant, sharpening and intensifying the fights we were already waging. Environmental destruction unleashes zoonotic diseases that risk the lives and livelihoods of workers around the world, reminding us that the labour movement must mobilize now to help solve the climate crisis. Health and safety, a cornerstone of the early trade union movement, has jumped to the forefront as work has once again become a life or death proposition. The increase in sexual harassment and domestic violence as well as the growing attacks on LGBTI workers have strengthened our commitments to end gender-based violence and have shown us that we must increase our work for equality. Higher rates of hunger remind us how broken our food system is as food workers, from plough to plate, keep the world fed while struggling for rights on the job and food for their own families.
We have also seen during the pandemic the acceleration of the economic and political polarizations already in motion. The rich have gotten much richer with the world’s richest man’s personal wealth growing by USD 70 billion to a staggering USD 201 billion. Citizens of rich countries are getting vaccinated much more quickly than those from poor countries. The global elite refuses equalizing measures like the TRIPS waiver at the WTO which would hasten global vaccination. The result is that the rich countries’ economic outlook improves daily while the poor countries fall further behind.
On May Day we celebrate the fighting spirit of the labour movement. We celebrate our sisters and brothers in Hong Kong who march to prison defending democracy with defiance. We celebrate our sisters and brothers under siege in Myanmar who continue the resistance despite the odds. We celebrate the countless workplace wins this year, big and small, for new trade unions, for new collective bargaining agreements, for protective equipment, for sick pay, for recall rights, for healthcare. We celebrate the new law against subcontracting in the meat sector in Germany and new laws regulating the gig economy in the UK. We look ahead to the wins not yet realized that will elevate the rights of people over the demands of investors for excessive profits, for social protections for all, for equal access to vaccinations, for health and safety protections as a fundamental right for all workers, for a healthy planet where trade unions and democratic rights form the foundation of a just and equal society.
We celebrate the rights we have, the outcome of so many generations of struggle, and we recommit to our present struggles, the foundation of rights the workers of the future will one day enjoy.
Happy May Day, sisters and brothers!