Written by Bob Muehlenkamp, Facilitator, Third Act Retired Union Members Working Group

On May Day we celebrate worker solidarity in the continuing struggle for fair wages, dignity, and social justice. As part of the climate justice movement, we in Third Act connect climate action with the struggle to create better jobs, change our obscene economic inequality, and fight for racial and gender justice. We know we can’t solve these crises separately or one at a time. We need intersectional solutions. So on this May Day we stand in solidarity with workers in our common struggles.

The history of May Day shows just how common these struggles are.

In the spring of 1886, workers went on strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. On May 3rd, as the police protected strike-breakers, they shot and killed one striker and injured others. To protest this police brutality unions held a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square in Chicago. After the rally someone, never identified, threw a bomb. Police opened fire on the crowd, injuring 60; 7 police were killed. Three years later, in 1889, unions declared May 1st  as May Day, to commemorate the strike and the Haymarket Affair.

Thirteen years later, in 1902, J. P. Morgan (yes, the founder of Chase Bank), in order to stop competition and create a monopoly, and to prevent workers from organizing unions, merged six farm machine companies into International Harvester. By the 1970s, IH was the fourth largest U. S. corporation.

Workers fought for another 39 years to organize a union at IH in 1941. They fought for the next 50 years to make their jobs secure and pay a living wage  They went on strike for over 100  days in 1950, 63 days in 1958, 42 days in 1967, l15 days in 1973, 42 days days in 1976, 172 days in 1979, and, 101 years after police killed a striker at Mccormick, 163 days in 1987. That’s how workers and their unions built a middle class against J. P. Morgan’s monopoly. J. P. Morgan and International Harvester didn’t change. They couldn’t. Workers and their union forced them to pay a living wage.

In his “Introduction” to the second edition of The End of Nature in 2006, Bill McKibben says that what he learned in the 10 years since he first wrote the book is that the struggle to save the planet is not a question of facts, debate, and persuasion to get the extraction industry to do the right thing. It’s simply about money and power. They—and the banks who finance new carbon extraction—can’t stop themselves from maximizing short term profits at the expense of the planet. Like workers at IH, we have to stop them.

But as we in the Third Act struggle with the two existential issues of our time–democracy and the climate crisis–we don’t have 101 years or even 39 years.  The March 20, 2023, IPCC report makes it clear we have seven years to cut fossil fuel emissions in half or we will  create climate changes that are irreversible and will alter our planet for thousands of years.

So today, this May Day, we in Third Act stand in common cause, with a common adversary, and with common solutions with workers as they struggle to create good union jobs in the new clean energy economy, to make a living wage on a living plant. And we commit with renewed urgency to our mission–to save democracy and our planet.


Bob Muehlenkamp has been on the front lines of our country’s social justice and trade union movements for a half century. He served as Executive Vice President and National Organizing Director at SEIU-1199, the hospital workers union, and as the Teamsters Union Organizing Director. Bob helps facilitate Third Act’s Retired Union Members Working Group. On March 22, he was arrested in front of Chase Bank with 10 others as part of the Rocking Chair Rebellion against dirty banks.