Americans missed the largest worker strike in history over Labor Day weekend.

For most Americans, Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah of summertime.

It's a chance to kick back with some burgers and beer and embrace or lament the cooler weather coming around the corner.

Contrary to what the governor of Texas tweeted, Labor Day is also a celebration of the wonderful progress that's been made to improve the lives of the working class — things like minimum wage and sick days and overtime and all that good stuff we tend to take for granted.


But your Labor Day weekend probably didn't look like India's:

Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images.

While we Americans were enjoying the fruits of our own labor battles this year, the largest labor strike in history was going down in India ... and most of us straight up missed it.

According to the BBC, the problems began with the government's new proposed economic growth plan, which they hoped would bring in some more money from foreign investors. (Read: probably mostly tech.) Union leaders, however, saw this is as a "vile conspiracy ... to privatise the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry," which would further aggravate the country's already rampant issues with poverty and class divide.

So an estimated 180 million Indian workers went on strike on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, to demand better pay and benefits. Everything from public transportation to government offices to banks to schools and construction sites were forced to close down for the day — leading to an estimated loss of 26,250 crore rupees, or nearly $4 billion U.S. dollars.

Sound familiar?

Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.

This isn't the first time in recent memory that Indian labor unions have gone on strike.

Leaders from 11 different Indian unions actually met to discuss the strike about six months ago, and this one was the fourth overall since 2009. They also organized a similar strike on Sept. 2, 2015, one year to the day of this latest event.

"We have been putting forward our demands for the last five years," said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. "But over the last year no minister has even met the trade unions."

Union leaders came up with their latest list of demands in March 2016, and it included government-provided social security and health care and raising the minimum wage from 6,396 rupees per month, or about $96 per month, to 18,000 rupees.

Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images.

The best they got in terms of negotiation this time around was when Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley countered with an offer of a 9,100 rupee minimum wage, or about $136 per month — to which the union reps understandably said, "No deal."

Again: Sound familiar?

Labor Day in the U.S. and International Workers' Day across the globe have been around since the 1880s.

And while we've come a long way, workers around the world are still fighting for the same rights to basic decency in 2016.

The grievances of the Indian laborers who participated in this epic strike are not so different from the issues we're dealing with right here in America, from health care reform to the Fight for $15 to parental leave and beyond, all to satisfy the supposed economic stimuli of offshore funds and top-earner tax cuts that never, ever trickle down.

Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.

These same struggles have happened, and keep happening, all across the world.

It's so common that even if you had watched cable news networks over Labor Day weekend, you probably wouldn't have seen anything significant about the labor strike.

Some people might even say that such an event isn't newsworthy anymore if it's the same thing that's been going on for so many years. But I say that's exactly why we should stand in solidarity with the workers in India: If their demands are met, then there's more hope for the rest of us. That is, after all, the whole power of a union.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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