Have we forgotten the meaning of May Day?

To many of us, May Day is a brief respite between Good Friday and Vesak Day, a public holiday where we get to rest and spend with family and friends.

In our never-ending quest to hit our KPIs, clear our workload and juggle work and life, I wonder how many of us are curious why May Day is important enough to be gazetted as a Public Holiday just like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali.

 

Origins of May Day

May Day, aka ‘Labour Day’ here in Singapore, is celebrated on 1st May each year to honour workers and their contributions. It falls on the same date as International Workers’ Day, a celebration of the international Labour Movement and also the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, Illinois.

On 1st May 1886, peaceful rallies were held by labour unions throughout the United States for an 8-hour workday instead of the regular 10-12 hours workday workers then had. However the rallies were marred by a bomb and subsequent gunfire that led to casualties.

In 1889, a delegate from the American Federation of Labor recommended at a labour conference in Paris that 1st May be set aside as International Labour Day in memory of Haymarket martyrs and the injustice of the Haymarket Affair, leading to many nations declaring 1st May as a national holiday.

Are we too automatic for our own good?

In Singapore, workers are important as having a strong and skilled labour workforce is one of the key competitive strengths of our nation. We spend more than ten years of our lives studying to be equipped as a future worker to contribute to our personal wealth, household income, company, society and nation.

Many of us lead mind-numbing lives and lifestyles, fluttering from one duty to the next to clear our self-imposed endless transactions:

settle customer requests, meet another department for a project, buy groceries, go to the bank, look for a famous food stall for dinner, catch the 6.20pm bus, collect a delivery order, pay the maid her salary etc.

We make multiple contact points with other people whilst playing a different role in each circumstance, as a worker, customer or employer. However in our autotasking mode, we may have subconsciously relegated each point as a mere transaction, to be cleared with minimum fuss so we can get on with our lives.

It’s not surprising that we’ve programmed ourselves such that any delay could drive us into a furious frenzy, automatically transforming us into complaint-kings and queens, adamant on blaming everyone else for the failed or choked transaction.

 

What should we do this May Day?

We are not machines; as humans who can think, feel and respond (not react), we should be better at dealing with such issues that cause a momentary blip in our path through life. May Day is a good time to reflect on ourselves in our daily roles and remember that we have the power to affect those around us positively.

NTUC Labour Chief Lim Swee Say recently urged Singaporean workers to “take greater pride in what we do”, customers to “treat service workers as equals” and employers to “treat every worker better”.

Take a deep breath, wake up to observe what’s going around us, and think about how you can make someone’s day regardless whether he’s a co-worker, a staff serving you, or those under your payroll.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.