1. To celebrate the approach of summer
As summer approaches, Americans may be reminded of their relative lack of leisure.
During the last thirty years, the U.S. market has been "opened" and deregulated more, and more quickly, than that of any other developed country. This rush to free-market solutions has been promoted using the language of freedom and opportunity for all.
Yet the hours worked per year by the average American increased greatly between 1980 and 1997, while in every other developed country but one, they declined. Compared with 1973, Americans must now work six weeks more per year to achieve the same standard of living. (That's a whole lot of summer vacation.)*
We've seen what mindless deregulation and liberalization has done to America. Why are institutions like the WTO and the IMF given such untempered power to promote these agendas to the rest of the world?
2. To celebrate an important American holiday
The Mayday that is celebrated in almost every country besides the U.S. commemorates the U.S. struggle for the eight-hour day, and especially those killed in that struggle.
On May 1, 1886, widespread strikes in the United States and Canada for an eight-hour day met varying degrees of resistance from employers and police. Although shortly thereafter the strikers' demands were adopted in every civilized country, and have came to seem entirely basic (except, recently, in the U.S.), the Chicago police did not see it that way, and killed six striking workers.
The next day, at a demonstration in Haymarket Square to protest the killings, a bomb exploded in the middle of a crowd of police, killing eight of them. The police promptly arrested eight anarchist trade unionists, some of whom had not even been at the Haymarket protests. Four of those arrested were hanged. To this day, no one knows who actually set off the bomb, but suspicious types believe that one of the police's own agents provocateurs may have dropped it in retreat from charging workers.
In 1889, the International Working Men's Association declared May 1st an international holiday in commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs. Today, Mayday is celebrated almost everywhere on earth, but, for historical reasons, not in America. (Americans celebrate "Labor Day," a holiday whose roots are much less riotous, and which has become an apolitical celebration of productivity in which workers and management share equal status, moving forward into progress and profit together.)
* Sources: Bureau International du travail, Key Indicators of the Labor Market 1999, Geneva, 1999, p. 166; Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Basic Books, New York, 1992, pp. 79-82.