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Occupy May Day Michigan: Appreciating the 8 Hour Work Day

May 1, 2012

DETROIT - In Detroit, Ann Arbor and around the nation, the "Occupy" movement is calling for a general strike to commemorate this May Day, International Workers Day. While some labor unions have endorsed the idea, it's unclear how many workers will actually go on strike.

Historian Priscilla Murolo says that, to her, it's not really about whether someone strikes, it's about remembering how workers have struggled for rights that many Michiganders now take for granted.

"May Day 1886 marks the beginning of a national strike wave in support of the eight-hour day."

It took a long time and many protests to gain workers' rights. Murolo, a professor of women's history who has written extensively about the labor movement, says it wasn't until 1938 that the eight-hour day finally became law.

She says today's protests have similar themes, but with a broader focus.

"We have, this time around, the "Occupy" movement and the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement all coming together. This is a real historic convergence of people with visions of a better way of living."

Murolo says workers have lost ground over the years. For example, OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, was created in the early '70s to protect people against unsafe working conditions, but she says there's not as much oversight as there used to be.

"We began with quite a few inspectors and now there are only a few OSHA inspectors and they announce that they're coming. They call the employers and say 'We're going to show up.' But they only show up only once every three, four or five years."

Murolo sees the "Occupy" movement as an effort not only to improve labor conditions, but also to work for equality and human rights for everyone. She is co-director of the Graduate Program in Women's History at Sarah Lawrence College.

More information on the first May Day protest is at www.chicagohistory.org.

"Occupy" information is at www.generalstrikedetroit.info.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI