ON MAY 1, tens of millions of people across the globe celebrate International Workers’ Day, often called May Day or International Labor Day. Countries around the world have made May Day a major holiday, but its origin as a day to fight for and honor the rights of workers has strong roots in the United States and the struggle for the eight-hour workday. During the Great Depression, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin chose May Day 1933 to launch the first issue of The Catholic Worker, a newspaper dedicated to the proposition that it is “possible to be radical and not atheist”—an idea that has also been central to Sojourners these past 50 years. In fact, a radical commitment to labor rights and economic justice is because of our faith, not in spite of it.
The dedication and sacrifice of labor activists has led to hard-won rights—including the eight-hour workday, the weekend, safe working conditions, an end to most child labor, and more—rights far too many of us can take for granted. And yet standing up for the dignity and rights of workers remains incredibly important because these rights are not enjoyed by everyone equally and have been relentlessly eroded over the past four decades. The struggle for labor rights has shifted amid an evolution in the nature of work, with many workers exercising greater agency in the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving behind jobs that are often underpaid, unsafe, or underappreciated.