On the coronavirus, the workforce, and May Day

not flower in baskets the real may day
A handbill for a May Day event in Seattle in 1976. (Photo: Library of Congress)
not flower in baskets the real may day
A handbill for a May Day event in Seattle in 1976. (Photo: Library of Congress)

(The following was adapted from the May 1 edition of the Daily Current Newsletter, which you can subscribe to here)

In the U.S. we don’t really observe May Day to commemorate labor’s ongoing struggle with capital. But I’ll do it anyway.

In the decades following World War II factory and industrial workers in the U.S. were honored, or at least provided good pay and benefits. The same regard has not been extended to today’s workforce that is the backbone of (what was up until a few weeks ago) the 21st century economy: service sector workers.

The coronavirus and accompanying economic crisis has exposed multiple failures of the U.S. economic and political system to treat working people with respect. At least there is something of an awakening now … who knew retail workers in grocery and convenience stores were so important? They did, of course.

Policymakers and politicians love to promise “good” jobs. Too often that line of policy and campaign rhetoric crowds out the more urgent priority: Improving pay and conditions in the most common jobs we have now, and honoring those jobs and the people who do them.

Food service, retail, home and personal aides, janitorial and maintenance workers and the rest of the service sector employees who make up the overwhelming majority of the workforce in the 21st century deserve a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed by factory and industrial workers in the 20th. They can have it, too. Not because market forces will magically deliver it to them. Market forces have failed to do that. Change must be the result of the same thing that that has created so much inequity and unfairness in the first place: policy decisions.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.