Happy May Day!
Originally sparked by the Haymarket Massacre of 1886, when police cracked down on peaceful protestors rallying for an eight-hour work day in Chicago, International Workers’ Day has enjoyed a bit of a revival in the last several years. In 2006, activists organized “a day without an immigrant,” and immigrants’ rights actions have been a big focus of the day ever since. A couple years ago, Occupy activists attempted a (rather unsuccessful) nationwide general strike.
In honor of May Day — and as inspiration for future striking dreams — here’s an image from the feminist archives of one the more successful general strikes in history. On October 24 1975, Iceland’s women refused to do any work — outside or inside the home — taking “the day off” from paid labor, housework, and child care. An estimated 90 percent (what!!!) of Icelandic women participated and 25,000 — a tenth of the population — gathered at a rally in Reykjavik. As you might imagine, the country was basically shut down. An article the day after said, “The militant women…staged their token stoppage to show just how indispensable they are. And the men, who treated all the strike threats as a huge joke, began to get the point.” The day was later remembered as ”the long Friday.”
More than a century after the Haymarket Massacre, many American workers still don’t even have an eight-hour (paid) work day. And almost four decades after Iceland’s women proved how indispensable their under- and unpaid labor was, the second shift still falls mainly to women — and still isn’t valued as the real and vital work it is. So, um, make that “Unhappy May Day,” I suppose.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.