International Workers' Day and the Power of Information

1st of May is one of the days I miss Vienna the most. I miss big red-and-white flags hanging from the historic houses, and the blissful peace I feel when I wake up: As it is workers’ holiday, the drives have the right to rest so public transportation only starts functioning at noon. I miss decorated trams that later in the day drive through Vienna. Music on the streets. The parade I always wanted to go to and never did (yes, yes: Never postpone to tomorrow what you could do today). I miss that one day in the year when we celebrate labor. Workers and their rights. General human rights. Human dignity. The rights of people vs. rights of corporations. 1st May originated in the USA. It was in Chicago on 1st of May 1886 that workers were first protesting for an 8-hour workday. Someone threw a bomb at them and as a reaction the police fired at them, killing four men. In 1891, 1st of May was recognized by the International as an annual event of international demonstrations for workers’ rights. It has been celebrated since then throughout the world. Not in the USA. Of course.

It feels strange being in the USA on International Workers’ Day. It’s just like every other day: From early morning, gardens around me are buzzing with the noise of lawn mowers. They are operated by Mexican gardeners, most of whom are here illegally. They work 7 days a week, for a few bucks an hour, have no paid holidays, no health insurance, no benefits. No rights. And when I was thinking of those Mexican gardeners working on workers’ day, I remembered a friend who works in IT for a huge American bank. After he lost his job during the financial crisis, the only job he managed to get was a freelance job. It is at one of the country’s biggest banks, but in spite of that, he has no regulated hours, no paid vacation, no health insurance. No rights. And now they want to cut his pay.

I just had a discussion on Facebook about a project in which they handed out laptops to Ethiopian kids. Without any instructions or help. The kids learned – all by themselves – to operate them, to read, and a bit of English language. The discussion was about if information will help to improve those kids' lives. My opinion is it won’t – especially if it is not guided information - it will only create a wish for lives and things we have and they can’t. It will create desperation and envy.

People in the USA have the information. They know that in Europe, we have 5 weeks of paid holidays, everyone (including unemployed and free lancers) has excellent health and social insurance, and other basic protection. Has that information improved lives of workers in this country?

Happy International Worker’s Day!



Vienna today, 1 May 2013, Rathausplatz