As 1,500 sex workers took to streets in Dubar, India and 3,000 protesters in South Korea gathered to demand a 40-hour workweek, University of California union representatives and students gathered in Storke Plaza on the first of the month to celebrate International Workers Day, or May Day.
The crowd was part of a march through campus that began at the Arbor and, after a short rally in Storke Plaza, ended at the chancellor’s office where marchers delivered a letter to Chancellor Henry Yang. During the rally, union representatives spoke and called on the University to bargain in “good faith” with its employees.
Four local union chapters – the Clerical Union Employees (CUE), UC-American Federation of Teachers (AFT), University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) – formed a coalition to fight for fair wage increases and respect for workers.
The letter to Yang stated in part, “From this day forward we will support each other on the basis of the old labor slogan ‘An Injury to One is an Injury to All,’ for we have learned that our best defense is championing the rights of our brothers and sisters.”
May Day began around 1886 when carpenters and other workers in Chicago demanded an eight-hour workday with the idea “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” Though no longer celebrated in the United States, May Day is a national holiday in many countries; in China, workers receive a week off for the occasion.
History professor Nelson Lichtenstein, who recently authored the book State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, said U.S. workers have not yet achieved the free time they fought for over a century ago.
“When people have two jobs or even three they’ve lost that conquest of time,” he said.
May Day celebrations at UCSB began in 2000. Luis Prat, an engineer for the chemistry and biochemistry departments, proposed the idea at a UPTE union meeting, one year after a crowd had gathered in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization. Prat said May Day is regaining momentum after discouragement in the 1980s, when then President Ronald Reagan declared it “Law Day.”
“All over the world people are once again making May Day their day,” Lichtenstein said.
Speakers also criticized the discrepancy between worker pay raises, which vary from 1 percent to 2 percent depending on the contract, and those of top administrators, which average 25 percent.
“The mission of the University is education, not making top administrators rich,” Prat said.
As musicians sang songs criticizing capitalism, a small group of students held signs inscribed with “I Love Capitalism” while waving American flags. “The system isn’t perfect,” said Jonathan Kalinski, a former chair of the College Republicans. “But it is the best system and communism and socialism have proven that they are the antithesis to freedom and quality.” Last year on May Day, the College Republicans brought a speaker from Cuba to speak against communism.