Why workers in Meath and across the globe are commemorating May Day writes Christine O’Mahony

In 1889, the 1st of May or May Day was chosen as the date for International Worker’s Day. May Day is internationally known as the day for commemorating the campaigns and successes of workers and labour movements. 

John Regan, chair of the Meath Trades Council and SIPTU organiser, said that: “May Day was first celebrated in Dublin in 1890, four years before the establishment of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

The Meath Trades Council has recently been re-established, fifty years after it was first set up in 1972. The Council had effectively ceased to meet over recent years but there is a new-found determination by trade unionists across the county to revive the Council, and a series of events is planned for the coming months.

This determination reflects the increase in trade union membership and the positive role played by unions.

The CSO estimates that membership in Ireland has risen by one-fifth since 2016 and that one in four workers is a member of a trade union. Furthermore, a 2019 EU survey indicated that 72% of Irish people had a positive view of trade unions, up from 51% in 2014”.

Regan added: “The growth in membership reflects the successes of the trade union movement down through the years. Workers who are protected by a collective agreement receive a ‘pay premium’ of between 10-15% and are one-third more likely to take part in training, compared to workers who aren’t, according to research by the Paris-based OECD.

“It was the trade union movement that also came up with many of the measures that helped minimise the impact of the pandemic on jobs and incomes, including the job retention TWSS and EWSS schemes as well as better sick pay”.

“Trade unions are now campaigning to make these measures permanent and to achieve better protection for workers as the nature of work changes due to remote working, digitalisation and automation”.

“The OECD has also found that in countries where collective agreements apply across an entire sector, such as in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Nordics, employment rates are higher, especially among women, young people, and migrant workers, and productivity is also higher. In short, sectoral collective agreements generally means more and better jobs. It is for this reason that the EU is currently considering a new directive that seeks to promote collective bargaining”.

“Meath Trades Council is finally celebrating May Day because it is ‘our’ holiday – it was made a public holiday in 1994, the centenary of ICTU’s foundation”, Regan concluded.

For those who would like more information of the Meath Trades Council or would like more information on trade unions in general, please contact the Chairperson of Meath Council of Trade Unions, John Regan, from SIPTU, mobile number: 087 6776807 or Secretary to Meath Council of Trade Unions, Moira Leydon, from ASTI, mobile number: 087 9630817.

Picture description above: Activists from SIPTU, FORSA, ASTI, USSI, USI and retired workers’ associations met in the Dan Shaw Centre, Navan for International Workers’ Day, May 1st 2022.