This May Day, trade unionists and the labour movement will again come together to celebrate efforts to improve workers’ rights. 

Also known as International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, May Day can be traced back to the ‘Haymarket affair’ in Chicago more than 130 years ago, when tens of thousands of workers went on strike for the eight-hour working day. 

Soon after, in May 1890, an international day of demonstrations for workers’ rights was held, with hundreds of thousands of participants in the UK. What began as a one-off protest grew with trade unionism in the decades that followed, evolving into an annual international celebration of the labour movement and workers’ rights. 

May Day has been a bank holiday in the UK since 1978, introduced by the Labour government to acknowledge the importance of the labour movement. At various turbulent moments in history, the day has continued to be marked by protests in support of workers’ rights and against the exploitation of workers by capitalism.

"On May Day, we at Thompsons celebrate workers' rights, salute those who fought so hard for those rights and campaign for guarantees to maintain those rights and for policies that protect and enhance the rights of all workers into the future."

Stephen Cavalier
chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors

Today it serves not only as a celebration of past worker victories, but a reminder that more needs to be done to help those who still endure unsafe or unfair working conditions in the UK and elsewhere. 

Stephen Cavalier, chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, said:

“May Day is a national and international celebration of workers' rights and trade unions. It is a Bank Holiday in the UK thanks to a Labour government, opposed by the Tories. 

“Trade unions fought for paid holidays for workers. The Labour government in 2008 gave UK workers the right to 4 weeks' paid annual leave, later enhanced to add Bank Holidays. These rights came from the European Union Working Time Directive, opposed by the Conservatives who wanted to deny these rights to UK workers. 

“Unions fought for these rights and trade union BECTU, backed by Thompsons, established the right of all workers to paid leave from day one of employment. 

“These rights are at risk, through Brexit and the actions of the Tory government. Not only must these rights be guaranteed when the UK leaves the EU, any future improvements must be guaranteed. Labour is right to call for four additional statutory holidays in the UK. And legislation is needed to ensure that workers on zero-hours, low hours or part-time employment are not shut out from the right to enjoy paid time away from work. 

“On May Day, we at Thompsons celebrate workers' rights, salute those who fought so hard for those rights and campaign for guarantees to maintain those rights and for policies that protect and enhance the rights of all workers into the future.”