May Day is Worker’s Day, and It’s Highlighting How Far U.S. Workers Have Fallen Behind

Latina Textile Worker at Sewing Workshop

May 1 is referred to as May Day, International Workers’ Day, or simply Worker’s Day. It’s a day for working-class people to celebrate their achievements and reflect on how much progress has been made for everyday workers. However, it’s also a reminder of how much further U.S. workers still have to go regarding workers’ rights and overall quality of life.

The U.S. ranks dead last in worker benefits among all developed countries, and the wage gap is still a major issue, especially for women. Latina women working full-time in the U.S. find that the wage gap is even larger for them. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Latinas only make 57 cents for every dollar a man makes year-round. Of course, the Latina wage gap varies greatly by state. Latinas in California get the shortest end of the stick by earning 44 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Working hard but earning half has been a reality for many Latinas in the U.S., and having a college degree isn’t a shield from that. The National Women’s Law Center has reported that, compared to white men, Latinas may lose over $1.2 million over a 40-year career because of the wage gap. For Latinas with progressional degrees, that figure rises to nearly $2.5 million. The disparity is undeniable.

In a country where labor exploitation is high, and worker satisfaction is low, this day is a good reminder for everyone, especially Latinas, to continue to advocate for better wages and better working conditions.

International Workers’ Day and Why It’s Needed

International Workers’ Day, or May Day in other countries, is rooted in the labor movement of the late 19th century, which gained momentum after the Haymarket Affair. This happened in Chicago in 1886, when workers went on strike on May 1 to demand an 8-hour working day. They rallied peacefully but were met with police brutality. On May 4, during a rally at Haymarket Square, someone threw a bomb at police officers who were dispersing the crowd, leading to chaos and violence. Police officers and civilians were killed, and up to 40 people were injured.

The Haymarket Affair became a symbol of the struggle for workers' rights. While it led to more government crackdowns on labor organizations, it also inspired solidarity among workers in the U.S. and beyond as they continued to push for labor reforms. In 1889, The Second International, a federation of socialist and labor groups, designated May 1st as International Workers' Day to commemorate the Haymarket Affair and celebrate workers. Since then, May Day has been associated with the labor movement and the fight for workers' rights, including demands for fair wages, safe working conditions, and the right to organize.

It’s worth noting that, during the Cold War, the holiday was embraced by communist countries like the Soviet Union. May Day became a major holiday not just in the Soviet Union, but in other Eastern Bloc countries. As a result, the holiday became associated with communism, so anti-communism led to the suppression of May Day’s association with labor movements in the U.S.

This is why even if May Day has roots in the American labor movement, the U.S. doesn’t officially celebrate May 1st as International Workers’ Day. Instead, the U.S. established Labor Day in 1894, which is observed every year on the first Monday of September, and Canada followed suit. Similar to May Day, Labor Day resulted from a violent clash between workers and police during the Pullman strike, which triggered a crisis. This prompted President Grover Cleveland to sign the holiday into law, presumably to maintain the support of the working class.

The day is now recognized around the world with marches and demonstrations. The holiday serves as a poignant reminder of the progress achieved through relentless activism and solidarity. From the implementation of the eight-hour workday to the establishment of labor rights, workers’ movements have won significant victories for the working class. However, the stark reality is that there are still persistent issues to address. One of those persistent issues is the gender wage gap and how it affects Latinas.

The Ongoing Challenges for Latinas

There’s no denying that the fight for gender equality in the workplace has generated more interest in recent years, but the battle is ongoing. In 2023, women were still paid 21.8% less than men on average, even when things like comparable education and work experience were accounted for. For Latinas, the challenges in the workplace are even more formidable because there are more harmful systemic barriers in place that affect them disproportionately.

Statistics reveal a persistent truth: Latina women earn substantially less than men and white women. According to the Lean In Institute, Latinas make 46% less than white men and 26% less than white women.

May Day reminds U.S. workers to confront these injustices head-on and continue demanding fair pay and benefits that improve their quality of life. Addressing the wage gap requires legislative reforms and changes in workplace policies, but it also requires a cultural shift. Any meaningful change to policy that occurred in the U.S. happened only when there was also enough public pressure to get politicians to move in that direction.

Fostering solidarity in the Latino community and standing together is key to amplifying the collective voice and engaging in transformative action. For example, sharing stories highlighting the disparity for Latina women can be a powerful way to pressure employers and policymakers. It’s also a great way to empower and inform one another.

Before social media, the public didn’t have as much access to information about market salaries, negotiation techniques, etc., and more as is available today. There also wasn’t easy access to communities that provide guidance and support when it comes to navigating job opportunities, salary negotiations, and career advancement. Today, this kind of support is only a few clicks or taps away, and it does make a difference.

A version of a U.S. economy where Latina women are compensated fairly for their work and are also treated with dignity and respect in the workplace does exist. Latinas are a powerful, talented community that’s fighting its way towards change. As the community continues to evolve, it won’t be surprising to see these harmful statistics begin to shrink.

Young Latinas having fun while playing video games

When it comes to the intersection of gender, culture, and nostalgia, it becomes evident that societal expectations for men and women are vastly different, especially considering how adults are allowed, or rather, expected to interact with “childish” things.

While men worldwide continue playing video games and buying toys without facing much criticism, women face societal pressure to abandon such interests.

Keep ReadingShow less
a group of young latino women and men pose for a selfie

On March 28, 2024, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) added a new standard for race and ethnicity data collection in the U.S. Census, approved by the Biden administration. Now, a separate checkbox exists for “Hispanic or Latino” alongside all other racial categories. This change has been celebrated by many in the Latino community, and it reflects a significant shift in how the U.S. Census gathers data about this section of the population.

Keep ReadingShow less
Image capturing the vigil held in Argentina to mourn the loss of Roxana Figueroa and Pamela Cobas, two lesbian women, victims of a hate crime.

Last week, on May 17, it was International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which is meant to highlight the advancements and ongoing challenges of the LGBTQ+ community. Within said community, “LGBTQ-identification is higher among Latinos than white or Black American adults,” as revealed by a Gallup poll. As such, the issue of homophobia and transphobia within the Latino community is an ongoing and evolving problem.

Keep ReadingShow less