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May Day 2028 Could Transform the Labor Movement—and the World

AutoMay Day 2028 Could Transform the Labor Movement—and the World

Members of the United Auto Workers courageously fought corporate greed at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis last fall during the historic six-week Stand-Up Strike. Because of their determination and commitment, we won record contracts with the Big Three automakers.

After decades of falling behind, UAW autoworkers are finally moving forward again.

We made a lot of ambitious demands at the bargaining table. One in particular may not have gotten the same attention as the reinstatement of cost-of-living adjustments or the reopening of the Stellantis assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill. — but it could also prove transformational: We aligned our contracts to expire at midnight on April 30, 2028.

We are fully preparing to strike on May Day 2028, which is critically important for several reasons.
When the United Auto Workers successfully concluded their strike against the “Big Three” auto manufacturers last fall, the union’s president, Shawn Fain, invited other unions to lay the groundwork for an even more powerful strike on May 1, 2028. Now local labor activists are answering Fain’s call.

They’re doing so by encouraging unionized workers to move the expiration dates for their contracts to April 30, 2028, just before International Workers’ Day, or May Day, as it’s commonly known. By aligning their contracts to end at the same time, unions could threaten to strike simultaneously, perhaps across industries, giving them greater economic and political leverage as they bargain with employers.

We are fully preparing to strike on May Day 2028.
The first is that, to reshape the economy into one that works for the benefit of everyone — not just the wealthy — we need to reclaim our country’s history of militant trade unions that united workers across race, gender and nationality.

May Day has its roots right here in the United States — in 1886, in the streets of Chicago, where workers were organizing and fighting for the 8-hour workday. This demand was met with brutal resistance by employers, who used both vicious mercenaries and the police to violently suppress mass protests led by unions. A bomb exploded in Chicago’s Haymarket Square during a clash between workers and police on May 4, 1886, killing several police officers and others.

The result was a sham trial, and seven labor leaders were sentenced to death.

The cause of those Haymarket Martyrs became the cause of the working class around the world, and May 1 became an international holiday commemorating the fight of workers everywhere to reclaim their time and the value of their labor.

Now, about 138 years later, May Day is celebrated as an official holiday in countries from Argentina to South Africa to Sweden to Hong Kong, just about everywhere — except its country of origin.

That’s not a coincidence. The billionaire class and their political lackeys have done everything they can to white out the true history of the working class in our country.

The billionaire class and their political lackeys have done everything they can to white out the true history of the working class in our country.
They want us to believe that corporate bosses gave workers decent wages, benefits and safer working conditions out of the goodness of their hearts. That justice and equality for people of color, for immigrants, for women and for queer communities were gifts benevolently handed down from above.

But we know the truth. Every law passed, every union formed and contract won — every improvement made at the workplace — has been won through the tireless sacrifice of the working class.

But if we are to truly reclaim the power and importance of May Day, then it can’t be through empty symbolism. It must be through action.

We wanted to ensure our contracts expired at midnight on April 30, 2028, not as a symbolic gesture, but as a rallying cry. We’ve asked other unions to join us in setting their contract expiration dates to May Day 2028 in hopes the labor movement can collectively aspire to building the power needed to change the world.

We form unions in our workplaces because we know we have far more power together than we do as individuals. What is true for workers in one workplace is true for workers across all workplaces. When unions organize together across industries and countries, our power is exponentially amplified. The fact is: without workers, the world stops running.

If working people are truly going to win on a massive scale — truly win healthcare as a human right, win pensions so everyone can retire with dignity, win an improved standard of living and more time off the clock so we can spend more of our time with our family and friends — then unions have to start thinking bigger.
Last summer, during the lead-up to the contract expiration at the Big Three, I had the opportunity to meet with Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. During our conversation, he pledged that no trucks driven by Teamsters would deliver parts to struck Big Three facilities.

The power of UAW autoworkers withholding our labor during the Stand-Up Strike was massive. But with the Teamsters supporting our fight, refusing to deliver parts to Big Three facilities, we had even more power. It created another headache for the Detroit automakers. It created more pressure on the Big Three to settle.

Now, imagine that type of worker solidarity on a much bigger scale.

And because corporate greed doesn’t recognize borders, neither should our solidarity. In the UAW, we’ve seen firsthand how companies pit workers against one another. Workers in Michigan are pitted against workers in Alabama, workers in the United States are pitted against workers in Mexico, workers in North America are pitted against workers in South America.

It’s a simple game. Companies shift production — or threaten to shift production — to locations where the labor is cheaper, the environmental regulations more lax, and the tax cuts and subsidies are greater.

A united working class is the only effective wall against the billionaire class’ race to the bottom. For the U.S. labor movement, that means grappling with some hard truths. Like the undeniable fact that it is impossible to protect American jobs while ignoring the plight of everyone else.

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There’s been talk about a ​“general strike” for as long as I’ve been alive. But that’s all it has been: talk.

If we are serious about building enough collective power to win universal healthcare and the right to retire with dignity, then we need to spend the next four years getting prepared.

A general strike isn’t going to happen on a whim. It’s not going to happen over social media. A successful general strike is going to take time, mass coordination, and a whole lot of work by the labor movement.
As Fain put it, “It’s important that we not only strike, but that we strike together.”

To that end, several local labor councils around the country have recently passed resolutions endorsing Fain’s proposal, recommending their affiliates try to shift the dates on which their contracts come up. Collective bargaining agreements typically include a no-strike clause that forbids work stoppages while the contract is in effect, making the expiration date the most likely time for a walkout.

“I think it’s really a bold call for organized labor to set our aims higher than managing decline.”

  • Connor Lewis, president, Seven Mountains Central Labor Council
    Eight councils affiliated with the AFL-CIO labor federation have endorsed the concept so far, said Connor Lewis, a union member, writer and president of the Seven Mountains Central Labor Council in central Pennsylvania. The councils span six states; the most recent to sign on was the council for Louisville, Kentucky, where Ford workers went on strike last year.

“Unions have really been handcuffed in what we can do to effectively organize to get significant gains for working people, whether they’re union members or not,” Lewis told HuffPost. “I think it’s really a bold call for organized labor to set our aims higher than managing decline and to actually, like so many unions are doing now, fight for raising standards.”

A website Lewis and others built called “Bargain Together” calls on workers to “prepare for mass strikes” on May 1, 2028.

“UAW issued the call. We’re answering,” it proclaims.

The maneuver’s backers see it as one way to work around U.S. legal restrictions on striking.

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 weakened organized labor in part by banning “secondary” or “sympathy” strikes, in which workers would strike one employer in order to pressure another, such as a business partner or supplier. Congress passed the law following a historic wave of disruptive work stoppages in 1945 and 1946 that involved millions of workers in the auto, energy, food, film and other industries.

Large-scale, simultaneous strikes tied to contract expirations could achieve by legal means the sort of cross-industry troublemaking that was outlawed decades ago. They could also maximize unions’ clout at a time when just one in ten U.S. workers belongs to a union, down from roughly one in three at organized labor’s peak in the 1950’s.

“This is a really innovative way to work within the law to actually achieve the kinds of gains and fight the kinds of fights we haven’t really seen since the days of the CIO,” Lewis said, referring to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which organized industrial workers en masse in the 1930’s and 40’s, before merging with the American Federation of Labor.

Collective bargaining agreements typically last a certain number of years; many last about three to five. Shifting the calendar date on which contracts typically end requires the employer’s cooperation in bargaining. Some companies may be resistant to either shortening or lengthening their contracts to coincide with a potential general strike — especially if the idea is to give unions more leverage in the future.

Jake Morrison, a union member and president of the North Alabama Area Labor Council, said aligning contracts to end on May Day will require buy-in from rank-and-file union members. After all, it is a demand like any other, like higher wages, more vacation time or increased retirement contributions.

Morrison’s council was the first to pass a resolution endorsing Fain’s idea, doing so unanimously. He said one union in his area is already working on moving its contract’s expiration date.

“It does seem like in North Alabama people are excited to try to prioritize it and be a part of something bigger,” said Morrison, who hosts an Alabama radio show called “The Valley Labor Report.”

Morrison said the strike against Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis was a strong example of how aligned contracts can give unions more power.
As working people, we must come together. We can no longer allow corporations, politicians and borders to divide us.

It’s time we reclaimed May Day for the working class.

That’s what our May Day contract expiration is all about.

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