Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day Remembered

On May 1, 1886, massive demonstrations and rallies of striking worker's took place all over the United States, the biggest being in Chicago. A violent few days followed, culminating in the bombing and gunfire on May 4 at Chicago's Haymarket Square. The bomb thrower was never found, but eight anarchists were brought to trial, four of them were executed. The majority of strikers present at Haymarket Square, however, were struggling for one thing above all: an eight-hour workday.

Five years later, at the second congress of the Second International (an international delegation of socialist and labour parties) in Paris, May 1 was officially made into an annual commemorative day in which workers rallied for the eight-hour day and other demands. Eventually, May Day was made a holiday in many countries around the world as well as a state holiday in socialist countries such as Cuba. In the US, meanwhile, there had been, at the end of the nineteenth-century, a initiative to move the holiday further away from the anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre. Then-president Grover Cleveland, following the lead of the anti-socialist union the Knights of Labor, moved the labour holiday to the first Monday in September.

My own post on the September Labour Day can be found here. May Day, however, is often shrouded in more mystery and its history, based around workers' struggles for basic rights and humane working conditions desperately needs to be remembered. This is even more important in light of the recent workplace disasters in Texas and Bangladesh, both seen increasingly as the result of lax corporate regulations and poor working conditions, echoing historic industrial disasters such as the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City.

Perhaps today is an opportunity to begin the long hard work of pushing forward on labour issues, and regain the ground lost over the past few decades of rollbacks and losses.

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