The term “May Day” is usually something overheard in movies where pilots are desperately calling for help on their radios as their plane spirals towards the ground. Yet for hundreds of millions of people around the world, the real meaning of the term is something completely different. The first of May, otherwise known as International Workers Day, celebrates the rights of workers and the gains they have struggled for and won over the past century and beyond.
The Day is the commemoration of the terrible Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, when police fired on workers who were striking to establish the eight hour work day, killing several demonstrators. The eight hour work day is commonplace in Canada in 2010, but over 100 years ago, it was pretty radical stuff.
Each year, holidays are held in most countries throughout the world. Although in Canada and the United States, we celebrate a similar holiday on Labour Day on the first Monday of September. Nonetheless, the vast majority of countries in the world, including Pakistan and India, hold the event on May 1st. Millions of people join parades in the streets and call for strengthening workers’ rights, social justice and equality for all.
And considering that there are still approximately 158 million children aged 5 to 14 working for a living worldwide, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), workers’ rights are inevitably children’s rights. In countries like ours, however, there are age restrictions to enter the labour force, which are usually 15 or 16 years of age, depending on what province you live in. But this couldn’t be said of dozens of other countries, where children work in terrible conditions.
It’s important to note that things weren’t always so good in Canada. Workers had limited rights, and things like health and safety laws and workers’ compensation were only a dream. If a worker was injured on a job, he or she would be fired and left with nothing. Child labour used to exist here as well. But for decades, people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds across our land decided to work together for positive social change, and we abolished child exploitation and other labour abuses.
Rights for workers are already relatively weak in much of the developing world, but being a child worker is even more challenging. Many children don’t want to work but feel they have to in order to survive, yet everyone knows they would be much better off, in both the short term and long term, going to school. Thus, the most direct way to abolish child exploitation is to end child poverty and help provide education for youth everywhere.
This can be done. We now live in a world where there is easily enough wealth to provide every child on earth with education, food, clothing and shelter. But this will depend on people all over the globe, no matter where they live, to work together in building a world where exploitation no longer exists.
“Together We Can Make a Difference”