May Day highlights struggle of working families
A time to focus labor’s role building a stronger middle class


For people in more than 80 countries this Friday, May 1, is a national holiday that honors labor and working people. It is often referred to as International Workers’ Day, Labor Day or just May Day.

Although May Day is not a legal holiday in the United States, SEIU and many unions as well as our allies use May 1 to highlight issues of income inequality, worker dignity and, especially in recent years, immigration reform.

“Most state employees will be at work, but I believe May Day is a time for us to reflect on the sacrifices made by earlier generations in the labor movement as well as the challenges ahead,” said Local 1000 President Yvonne R. Walker. “People fought for years to secure an eight-hour day and a 40-hour week. If we want to have a strong middle class for future generations, we need to work harder now.”

“May Day is a time for us to reflect on the sacrifices made by earlier generations in the labor movement as well as the challenges ahead.”

-Yvonne R. Walker
Local 1000 President

For years public employees including state employees, were denied the right to collective bargaining or union representation. We were treated as second-rate workers. Winning union security and collective bargaining through legislation gave us the strength to negotiate better salaries and benefits, secure our rights on the job and achieve retirement security.

May Day in U.S. history

The history of May 1 as a celebration of labor is rooted in what began as a peaceful May 4, 1886, protest in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Unions and other groups gathered to support workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the police killing several workers the day before.

As the demonstration continued into the night, someone threw a bomb killing seven police officers. The ensuing riot and gunfire also killed four civilians and wounded scores of others. A violent police crackdown on labor unions and political demonstrators followed and resulted in the imprisonment and execution of several political activists.

Though May Day had long been marked as a celebration of spring, the Haymarket affair drew international attention and the day began to be associated with labor unions and workers. In 1887, in order to distance the national commemoration from the perceived “radicalism” of Haymarket, President Grover Cleveland established Labor Day as an official holiday on the first Monday of September.

This May Day in Los Angeles, labor unions and other progressive groups will rally to support causes such as immigrant rights, living wages and equal treatment by law enforcement. Other rallies will be held in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.