Today is May Day, and depending on how one looks at it it’s either a pagan festival celebrating the start of summer, or International Workers’ Day. In the United States, the real reason to celebrate May Day is to commemorate the Haymarket event in 1886, when a peaceful labor demonstration against police violence became deadly after a bomb was thrown into a group of police officers.
The result was eight defendants, five of whom were immigrants, none of who were ever convicted of the bombing itself, convicted of conspiracy and in a trial largely prejudiced against them with a jury not allowed to contain union members or anyone sympathetic towards socialism.
Rights we now enjoy, such as eight-hour workdays and safe working conditions, came through the deaths of working people. Now, the fight against workers seems to be in the hands of the Republican Party. This May Day, we should all be thinking about a platform to demand from our elected officials. This isn’t all-encompassing, but these policies will go a long way in helping us have a fairer society.
Minimum Wage Increase, or Universal Basic Income: We need to make a choice on this. Conservatives continue to complain that they don’t want people “abusing” our safety net systems, but they also won’t raise a minimum wage that hasn’t kept up with inflation or productivity. If workers aren’t able to afford basic needs, they have no choice but to utilize social programs or starve. A realistic minimum wage is a big step forward. Fifteen dollars has been a popular figure; it may very well need to be more, but it’s a start. In lieu of this, we need a Universal Basic Income. This figure would be enough to ensure that no one goes hungry, and that no one has to decide between paying rent and paying for clothes for their children.
Progressive Tax Rates: The working class’s purchases are what drive economic growth; their numbers far outweigh those of the wealthy and while they may purchase less expensive items, they purchase more. Less taxes on them means more purchasing power, and more purchases made, which in turn drives up demand for product and demand for labor. Our current system of taxes doesn’t take enough from capital gains, or money made on investments. The maximum federal rate on long-term capital gains is 23.8 percent, probably lower than what you’re paying. Higher taxes on this form of those with money making more purely because they have access to it can help alleviate the strain caused from lowering taxes on those earning less.
Guaranteed Parental Leave and Universal Pre-K Education: This is more than a question of treating workers fairly, this is a need to treat people like human beings. Having a child is an important time to a parent, and being able to care for it properly without fear of losing your job should be a right. Wealthier people can afford nannies and don’t struggle to afford care. Huge percentages of working class salaries can go to daycare programs, a problem that can be helped by instituting Universal Pre-K education. While a common retort to this is calling it “free daycare”, the answer to that is “who cares.” If you want people to hold a job, you can’t expect them to do it while watching their kid. The same “family values” conservatives that want nuclear family households also expect everyone to be economically productive; not possible without childcare.
Job Training: Jobs in industries like coal have taken center stage, with many acting as if there’s no answer other than to keep these industries propped up despite the environmental cost and the health cost to those working in it. We need to demand better job training programs for those in dying industries, providing them with a fair chance to hold a job in the future economy and preferably one that won’t give them the black lung.
Universal Healthcare: Getting injured, becoming sick, or needing to see a doctor is a largely human characteristic, but we still have a system that doesn’t allow for everyone to be cared for. The massive cost for healthcare needs means that working people without employer-provided insurance have to spend their paychecks on accessing healthcare that should be a right. Additionally, jobs that require physical labor have a higher percentage of future health problems for workers, and providing universal healthcare will enable people to be treated earlier, alleviating costs for everyone down the line.
Free Public Education: Not like New York’s plan, with no real benefits to the poor and a demand that students work in the state for years after. We need to allow students to go to school for free, both colleges and trade schools. These programs need to be truly free for students, covering tuition, room and board, and things like textbooks. While people complain that nothing is “free”, let the rich pick up the tab and maybe they’ll see that investing in education is worth it. While we’re on education, we need to change how we view trades in this country; joining a trade doesn’t mean you’re less intelligent or less cultured. We need to respect these jobs and have excellent training programs for them. Germany is a good model to look at.
Abolish Right-to-Work: These laws interfere with union power and allow workers to enjoy hard-won union benefits that they don’t want to pay for. Unions are a voice for workers, and allowing states to silence them by tricking workers into thinking membership dues aren’t worth a voice makes for a worse working environment, and puts power right back in the hands of bosses. We need to remember that solidarity is important, and as a single person you aren’t capable of much. With a union, the power to negotiate and be treated fairly is yours.