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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

 
Happy International Workers' Day

by David Atkins

Today is May Day, ancient celebration of the return of spring and the bounty of life. It's also International Workers' Day throughout most of the rest of the civilized world. But the United States doesn't celebrate "International Workers' Day." We instead have the much more anodyne-sounding Labor Day, which we celebrate in the fall.

Why, you ask? Is it because International Workers' Day is some commie celebration started elsewhere to commemorate some European event in keeping with pagan rituals?

Nope. In fact, the inspiration for International Worker's Day was an event that happened right here in the United States: the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. Workers were striking in support of the 8-hour workday when the police moved in to disperse the crowd. Someone tossed a bomb in retaliation, killing seven officers. The police responded by firing on the crowd. Whether any in the crowd fired back, and how many protesters were killed by gunfire remains in dispute.

What is beyond dispute, however, is that a joke of a trial took place in the aftermath, leading to death sentences (a few later commuted) for seven of the so-called conspirators. Public outcry here and across the world was swift, leading to the first major International Workers' Day demonstrations in 1890:

Popular pressure continued for the establishment of the 8-hour day. At the convention of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1888, the union decided to campaign for the shorter workday again. May 1, 1890, was agreed upon as the date on which workers would strike for an eight-hour work day.

In 1889, AFL president Samuel Gompers wrote to the first congress of the Second International, which was meeting in Paris. He informed the world's socialists of the AFL's plans and proposed an international fight for a universal eight-hour work day.[87] In response to Gompers's letter, the Second International adopted a resolution calling for "a great international demonstration" on a single date so workers everywhere could demand the eight-hour work day. In light of the Americans' plan, the International adopted May 1, 1890 as the date for this demonstration.

A secondary purpose behind the adoption of the resolution by the Second International was to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and other workers who had been killed in association with the strikes on May 1, 1886. Historian Philip Foner writes "[t]here is little doubt that everyone associated with the resolution passed by the Paris Congress knew of the May 1 demonstrations and strikes for the eight-hour day in 1886 in the United States ... and the events associated with the Haymarket tragedy."

The first international May Day was a spectacular success. The front page of the New York World on May 2, 1890, was devoted to coverage of the event. Two of its headlines were "Parade of Jubilant Workingmen in All the Trade Centers of the Civilized World" and "Everywhere the Workmen Join in Demands for a Normal Day." The Times of London listed two dozen European cities in which demonstrations had taken place, noting there had been rallies in Cuba, Peru and Chile. Commemoration of May Day became an annual event the following year.
The United States Congress knew that the U.S. had to follow suit with a day to celebrate workers, but was terrified of what might happen if they did the right thing by placing it on the anniversary date of the massacre. So they bowed to the wishes of the robber barons and set "Labor Day" far on the opposite end of the calendar.

Congress notwithstanding, remember to stand in solidarity today with the labor movement that has delivered so many protections to workers across the globe, and remember also our own fight to retake power from our modern robber barons who are constantly attempting to strip those protections away. It's always the same fight; it's only the superficial details that change.


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