The Millennialization of American Labor

On May 4, 1886, thousands of workers rallied together in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to campaign for an eight-hour workday—initiating a tradition of protest for some of the most basic human rights. That was formalized on May 1, 1890, when the first International Workers’ Day was celebrated around the world.

In the 133 years since, workers and their unions have continued to fight for their rights—winning fights 80 years ago to establish the federal minimum wage, secure collective bargaining rights, and even raising wages for non-union workers by setting industry-wide standards. During the mid-20th century when union density was its strongest, unions reduced overall inequality.

But that was then. In the decades since, collective bargaining rights have been under unending attack and it is no accident that union density in the United States has declined to near single digits. Up to 87 percent of private-sector employers fight their employees’ efforts to unionize, sometimes spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay “union-avoidance consultants” to bust the organizing drives. 

In the last year, however, American workers have loudly and clearly said, “Enough!”

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