May Day 2016 - time to reflect on the challenges ahead of us

30 April 2016
May Day March in Melbourne in 2012/Photo: Johan Fantenberg/CC
What can we celebrate on May Day if everywhere, to a greater or lesser extent, we face the precarization of employment, outsourcing, privatization, cuts, the increase of the age of retirement and the rise of pension contributions? When all that governments want is to make layoffs easier or take away our right to freedom of association and to strike?

Indeed, times are not easy for trade unions; but they never have been. We must not forget that if we have these rights and face the risk of losing them, it's because others worked hard to achieve them, for themselves and for us!

For those of us who were born and raised with all these rights already acquired it may be difficult to imagine. But we have to keep in mind that 100 years ago we had very little or nothing, and slowly (but steadily) and with much effort we were able to add the weekly rest and the 40-hour week, as well as paid holidays and job stability.

Those who were in our place before fought hard for those rights. Many even lost their lives in the process.

For many workers, things aren’t much easier nowadays, and we still have many brothers and sisters losing their jobs and even their lives. This is not a reason to celebrate or to be happy about, not at all!

A trade union is not a comfortable place to be, a trade union is not a holiday resort. And when we choose to be part of one, it is because we already know that we have difficult or impossible challenges ahead of us and because we have the vocation of service and forces to deal with them.

As trade unions, one of the challenges we have today is to maintain and preserve these achievements, first as a duty to honor those who gained them for us, and second as a responsibility towards future generations of workers.

But as trade unions, we also have to double the bet; not only fight for the rights of workers but for the rights and the benefit of the society as a whole. In this globalized world, the challenges are greater and we need to rethink the role of trade unions to remain relevant. Because the spaces that we do not occupy in the global society will be occupied by others.

"This is why at PSI we fight against the privatization of public services, not only to protect jobs but to ensure that each and every person has access to quality public services; we fight so that energy and clean water reach everyone and not just those who can afford them; we fight for all citizens to have access to health services and so that those displaced by wars and affected by epidemics receive prompt and effective assistance. And for the same reasons we also want tax justice, not for some to pay more and others less, but because we must all be co-responsible for the prosperity and wellbeing of our society", says Rosa Pavanelli, PSI's General Secretary.

On this May Day, as we celebrate and honor our predecessors and we march with flags and banners for a minimum wage and decent jobs, we also march for the values that guide us; for those who don’t have justice and democracy, against slavery and climate change, for the refugees and those displaced by wars, because they are all values of trade unionism that must inspire our actions today and in the future.

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