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Refreshing Our Collective Determination on May Day

Today is International Workers Day, also known as May Day; a moment in the year to celebrate workers – and by extension the working class – and celebrate solidarity across the country and internationally. It is a time to unite, to draw strength from others, and to renew the struggle for workers’ rights, pay and pensions. And demand economic and social justice, recognising the role of workers in creating wealth and demanding that prosperity is shared collectively.

Every May Day feels like it comes at a crucial moment, and 2019 is no different. Austerity continues with the loss of over one million public sector workers jobs and counting. Not to mention Brexit which poses a threat to the rights of workers and the environment, especially if the next Conservative Prime Minister is someone like Dominic Raab or Boris Johnson, who have long railed against the EU Working Time Directive, a basic protection against exploitation that enshrines a maximum 48-hour working week with exceptions. No wonder the government thought about abolishing the May Day bank holiday in 2011.

Today, Addison Lee drivers in Luton are on strike for the first time over poverty wages, and there are also industrial disputes brewing at Sellafield, and with university lecturers in east London. 1,200 shop workers face redundancy at Debenhams and many thousands of car workers and the wider supply chain in Swindon and beyond face an uncertain future as Honda mull over plant closure. In every dispute there has been a trade union standing up for workers. Sometimes there is success, such as the pay rise for workers at the chocolate maker Cadbury, negotiated by Unite the Union earlier this week, and sometimes not. But without organised labour, there is no doubt that rampant and unchecked capital would consign workers to a much worse deal.

As this table from our recent report on the role of trade unions in bringing about equality shows, there is a direct correlation between the rich getting richer and worker power declining, largely as a result of anti-trade union laws and regulations.

Meanwhile capital is subject to ever-fewer checks, as financial deregulation, privatisation of public services, and the chipping away at employment regulations reinforce the in-built inequality of capitalism at the expense of workers. As our Fat Cat Diet report, published on 4th January – the day the pay of FTSE100 executives exceeded that of the annual average wage – shows, the unequal distribution of wealth harms workplace morale, hinders investment and stifles innovation and the economy. Put simply, excessive pay is a huge drag. It is a classic case of “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor”, as the author Michael Harrington first wrote.

The call for economic justice has become an important part of International Workers Day, alongside protests against deaths and injuries at work and in many countries the assassination of union activists and the oppression of trade unions. Today, in the many rallies taking place across Britain and the world, we remember the role of workers movements in challenging this, in championing democracy and, in places like the Amazon basin, fighting for environmental as well as workers’ rights amid violence inflicted by thugs hired by companies and now a far right government. And as if there weren’t already enough reasons to protest the visit next month of US president Donald Trump, let us remember he has eroded workers’ rights such as cancelling plans to regulate overtime pay and scrapping Barack Obama’s plans to ensure record-keeping for workplace injuries.

Those who place profit before humanity and the planet continue to be opposed by workers who are fighting to win improvements in jobs, wages and pensions. So let us draw strength from our fellow workers, honour those who work so tirelessly for the betterment of us all, and take a moment not just to celebrate workers’ organisation in a carnival atmosphere, but also to refresh our determination to fight for the many.

Lester Holloway is Communications and Events Officer at CLASS