The history of the 1st of May dates back to the struggles of the 19th century for decent living and working conditions, centred around the most iconic demand, the eight-hour workday. Those struggles resonate until today, when 'new forms of work', 'non-standard employment', social dumping, and bogus self-employment question many conquests of workers over the last 150 years, including the very eight-hour workday. Old ghosts of the early industrial days reappear mediated by smartphone applications and deceitfully labelled as 'disruptive'.
As important as having time to sleep and live is the possibility to make a living from your work. This might seem self-evident, but the growing and worrisome figures of in-work poverty in Europe and the world tells us otherwise. In some countries, collective bargaining and social dialogue remain strong enough to ensure decent wages for workers, but sadly this is not the case everywhere. Where social partners lack the necessary strength and the state has given up its regulatory role, salaries become often part of a race to the bottom, distinctively threatening the most precarious in the job market. Left to its own devices, the labour market is unlikely to solve many of these issues; for instance, in the case of the Gender Pay Gap, it is expected to take almost 100 years to close in general in the EU, and more than 1,000 in the case of France, if everything continues as usual.
For this very reason, the proposal for a minimum wage directive from the European Commission is of key importance. With its double goal of ensuring decent wages and strengthening collective bargaining, it will be a key tool in ensuring that the 19th Century stays in the past. Cases like Viking or Laval must not happen again, but they show clearly that Europe already plays a role in social policy. The question is therefore to decide which kind of role it should play. Turning the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights into tangible realities and rights for workers is the only way of ensuring that the many conquests of workers in Europe are strengthened and supported at European level, rather than weakened by legislative loopholes.
On this 1st of May, we call for all workers, social partners, and policymakers in Europe to heed the call for a more social Europe, and to ensure that something as basic as work providing a living wage is enshrined in EU law and protected as much as any other fundamental right and freedom. This is the only way forward for a sustainable social, economic, and environmental future.