The North Star


International Workers’ Day

May Day, a day of commemoration and struggle

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This year's International Workers' Day comes after a busy year. From the Common Front in the public sector in Quebec, to the historic formation of a union in an Amazon warehouse, to several strikes in the private and public sectors across Canada, the labour movement has demonstrated its strength.

However, it is still facing a number of attacks from the Canadian government, provincial governments and the bosses, notably in the form of reforms that increase the “flexibility” of the workforce. May Day 2024 will therefore be an opportunity for various organizations to unite their voices in opposition to these attacks, and to celebrate the victories achieved this year. 

The origins of International Workers' Day lie in the struggles between labour and the bosses. Alexis Lafleur-Paiement, a lecturer at the Université de Montréal specializing in political ideas and institutions, explains, “Originally, the date of May 1st was chosen by American industrial workers as part of a major mobilization they led in the 1880s to demand the 8-hour workday.”

It was on May 1st 1886 that a few hundred thousand American industrial workers called an unlimited 4-day general strike to demand the 8-hour day.

Today, the demands surrounding May Day have broadened to reflect the whole range of workers' struggles. “The original values of International Workers' Day are the fight against the bosses and, more broadly, the fight for the rights of the working class. Today, of course, this struggle continues. May 1st is still a time when workers want to assert their rights, when they want to struggle as one. Today, in Canada in particular, May 1st is much more peaceful. But its spirit of protest remains, in my opinion.”

May Day is also an opportunity to demonstrate in opposition to attacks on workers, such as the Legault government's Bill 51 or the Ford government's Bill 124. “With inflation, the working class is impoverished. There are attacks with bills to deconstruct the welfare and the health care systems.”

“And so May Day is an opportunity for workers in different sectors to be aware of the attacks by the state and the bosses and to ask how we organize collectively, how we make demands, implement strategies that allow us to achieve our goals, and how the working class is able to bend the state and the bosses to get its due.”

“I think May Day 2024 is also a good opportunity to think about unity between public and private sector workers. And it's also a good opportunity to think about the interventions we can make in future labour disputes. So, possibly at Canada Post, the railways, the Port of Montreal or, more broadly, the Canadian public service. For me, May 1st is a time for the working class to get together, to think about unity and to think about future struggles.”

In Quebec, May 1st is also the day of the minimum wage increase. “I think the government has been taking advantage of May 1st to raise the minimum wage for the past few years, with the aim of reducing popular anger; in other words, they want to give workers a trivial amount in a context of high inflation, so that they'll settle for these crumbs.”

“I don't think we should be fooled by the minimum wage increase, which is grossly insufficient in the context of inflation. I think the working class must not be fooled and must continue to organize and be aware that it is only through its struggles that it will achieve substantial and real gains.”

In the face of the tensions that can exist within the workers' movement, Lafleur-Paiement stresses the importance of the unifying nature of May Day. “It's really a time for coming together, a time to demonstrate the power of the working class, a time to galvanize workers, and so it takes the form of a huge parade in Canada's major metropolises, be it Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.”

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