To most United States citizens, the first day of May - International Worker’s Day - doesn’t have any real significance.
It is just another day to us.
In fact, most Americans tend to be a bit suspicious of anything that has to do with organised labour or marching union workers. It is an ingrained reflex left over from years of Cold War thinking: organised labour equals anti-capitalism equals socialism equals communism equals bad.
Just follow any political discussion in the United States and you will quickly notice that references to labour movements usually have the same effect on listeners as four-letter words. That is why many Americans tend to celebrate their Labor Day (the first Monday in September) by inviting family and friends over for a sunny afternoon of grilled cheeseburgers and light beer next to the pool.
There is no marching or demonstrating involved. There is no demanding better wages or improved working conditions. We are simply grateful to have a three-day weekend to spend doing whatever we want, happily oblivious to the fact that it was all of that marching and demonstrating that got us that day off in the first place.
Thus, I am naturally always a bit surprised, even after living here for over 15 years, to find that the shops, schools and offices in Zurich are closed on this day and that many people are out in the streets either:
a) peacefully marching for workers’ rights,
b) throwing bricks through the windows of big banks and parked BMWs,
c) not being privy to the fact that it is a holiday, wondering why all of the shops, schools and offices are closed.
And while one may or may not agree with the way certain groups choose to “celebrate” the holiday, I, for one, am thankful for the day off. It gives me time to reflect upon the importance of work and allows me to appreciate all that workers have accomplished to improve the quality of our lives.
That being said, it’s now time to fire up the grill and open up a few bottles of beer.