MAY DAY – THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR DAY – THE HISTORY
May 1st, International Workers’ Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognized in most countries. The United States of America and Canada are among the exceptions. This despite the fact that the holiday began in the 1880s in the USA, linked to the battle for the eight-hour day, and the Chicago anarchists.
The struggle for the eight-hour day began in the 1860s. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, organized in 1881 (and changing its name in 1886 to American Federation of Labor ) passed a resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labor organizations throughout this district that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution”. The following year the Federation repeated the declaration that an eight-hour system was to go into effect on May 1, 1886. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly. In the months prior to May 1, 1886, thousands of workers, organized and unorganized, members of the organization Knights of Labor and of the federation, were drawn into the struggle. Chicago was the main center of the agitation for a shorter day. The anarchists were in the forefront of the Central Labor Union of Chicago, which consisted of 22 unions in 1886, among them the seven largest in the city.
During the Railroad strikes of 1877, the workers had been violently attacked by the police and the United States Army. A similar tactic of state terrorism was prepared by the bureaucracy to fight the eight-hour movement. The police and National Guard were increased in size and received new and powerful weapons financed by local business leaders. Chicago’s Commercial Club purchased a $2000 machine gun for the Illinois National Guard to be used against strikers. Nevertheless, by May 1st, the movement had already won gains for many Chicago workers. But on May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of strikers at the McCormick Harvester Machine Company, killing at least one striker, seriously wounding five or six others, and injuring an undetermined number. Anarchists called for a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality.
The meeting proceeded without incident, and by the time the last speaker was on the platform, the rainy gathering was already breaking up, with only about two hundred people remaining. It was then a police column of 180 men marched into the square and ordered the meeting to disperse. At the end of the meeting a bomb was thrown at the police, killing one instantly, six others died later. About seventy police officers were wounded. Police responded by firing into the crowd. How many civilians were wounded or killed from police bullits never was ascertained exactly. Although it was never determined who threw the bomb, the incident was used as an excuse to attack anarchists and the labor movement in general. Police ransacked the homes and offices of suspected radicals, and hundreds were arrested without charge. A reign of police terror swept over Chicago. Staging “raids” in the working-class districts, the police rounded up all known anarchists and other socialists. “Make the raids first and look up the law afterward!” publicly counseled the state’s attorney.
Anarchists in particular were harassed, and eight of Chicago’s most active were charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the Haymarket bombing. A kangaroo court found all eight guilty, despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the bomb-thrower, and they were sentenced to die. In October 9, 1886, the weekly journal Knights of Labor published in Chicago, carried on page 1 the following announcement: “Next week we begin the publication of the lives of the anarchists advertised in another column.”
The advertisement, carried on page 14, read: “The story of the anarchists, told by themselves; Parsons, Spies, Fielden, Schwab, Fischer, Lingg, Engle, Neebe. The only true history of the men who claim that they are condemned to suffer death for exercising the right of Free Speech: Their association with Labor, Socialistic and Anarchistic Societies, their views as to the aims and objects of these organizations, and how they expect to accomplish them; also their connection with the Chicago Haymarket Affair. Each man is the author of his own story, which will appear only in the “Knights of Labor” during the next three months, – the great labor paper of the United States, a 16-page weekly paper, containing all the latest foreign and domestic labor news of the day, stories, household hints, etc. A co-operative paper owned and controlled by members of the Knights of Labor, and furnished for the small sum of $1.00 per annum. Adress all communications to Knights of Labor Publishing Company, 163 Washington St., Chicago, Ill.” Later this journal and the paper Alarm published the autobiographies of the Haymarket men.
Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer and George Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison. The authorities turned over the bodies to friends for burial, and one of the largest funeral processions in Chicago history was held. It was estimated that between 150,000 to 500,000 persons lined the route taken by the funeral cortege of the Haymarket martyrs. A monument to the executed men was unveiled June 25, 1893 at Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago. The remaining three, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe and Michael Schwab, were finally pardoned in 1893.
On June 26, 1893, the governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, issued the pardon message in which he made it clear that he was not granting the pardon because he believed that the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried, and that they and the hanged men had been the victims of hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge.
– Thanks to the Anarchists International Information Center
- 1st MAY is International Labour Day (tsnra.wordpress.com)
- May Day’s radical history (salon.com)
- Martyrs for Justice (counterpunch.org)
- Las Vegas MayDay Coalition: The Brief Origins of May Day – By Eric Chase – 1993 (kellywpatterson.com)
- Happy Labour Day 2012 (socyberty.com)
- International Workers’ Day (marciokenobi.wordpress.com)
- May Day (jdeanicite.typepad.com)
This was posted by Occupy Wall Strteet:
This May Day, hundreds of thousands of workers, immigrants, students, retirees, and unemployed people across the U.S. and around world will take to the streets, many for the first time. (If you are in NYC, check here for a schedule for the full day!) For folks new to protest (and of course, everyone else) we’ve thrown together a last-minute May Day Checklist:
What To Bring
(1) An affinity group: An affinity group is a group of people you know and trust. Before going to the demo, bring together a group of 2 or more friends and discuss your plans for the day, the tactics you plan on using, how comfortable you are risking arrest, etc. Everyone should have an affinity group, even if its just casual or informal. Once at the march, stick together and try to leave together. If someone has to leave early, make sure they do it safely. Make sure you have each other’s phone numbers. It might be a good idea to pair together more experienced protesters with newers folks. Most importantly, look out for each other.
(2) Footwear: Wear comfortable shoes that are easy to run in and won’t give you blisters. If possible, wear water-proof shoes. (There is a chance of showers tomorrow in NYC.) Don’t wear open-toe shoes.
(3) Band-aids: Your comfortable shoes may not be so comfortable after a day of marching, so bring band-aids in case of blisters.
(4) Water: Seriously. Lots and lots of water.
(5) Snacks: Especially nonperishable food like dried fruit, energy bars, nuts, and things that are easy to eat on-the-move.
(6) Backpack: Carry your stuff in a backpack. It´s easier to carry than a purse, especially if you need to run to catch up with a march. Also, pack light. Don´t bring unnecessary or heavy things, especially if you plan on being out all day.
(7) Multiple layers of clothes: Anticipate changes in weather. According to Weather Underground, the high in NYC for tomorrow is 72F and the low is 52F with a chance of showers.
(8) Cell phones and cameras: Cell phones are useful for communicating with others on the ground to get information and stay safe. You can also use video and cameras to document police brutality. You have a legal right to document police behavior and it is usually safe. However, be aware that police (especially the NYPD) have a documented history of targeting grassroots journalists with violence or arrest. (See here for more on your rights as a photographer.) If you do try to document police abuse, make sure you write down or photograph the officer’s badge number. Also be aware that there may be disruptions of service in heavily-clogged, high-traffic areas like lower Manhattan. (On #N17, the largest OWS action in NYC to date, many cell phones mysteriously stopped working.) Also, bring extra batteries and memory!
(9) Maps: Try to be familiar with the area before you go. Bring a map (on your phone or in print) with you and be aware of your surroundings.
(10) Rain gear: It might be a good idea to bring a poncho. Garbage bags also work. Keep in mind some police may perceive umbrellas as a threat. Bring extras of everything, kept dry in your backpack.
(11) Your own sign or banner: If you have a catchy slogan, bust out a sharper and some cardboard and tell the world! Write what makes you indignant; or, write something about the world you’d rather live in. Write why you´re on strike, or why you support #OWS, labor, students, immigrants, etc. Here are some common slogans: ¨Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out,¨ ¨We Are The 99%,¨ ¨Occupy Everywhere,¨ ¨We Are Unstoppable – Another World Is Possible.¨
(12) Know how to identify legal observers: Observers from the National Lawyers Guild will be on the ground throughout the day. You can identify them by their bright green hats. If you have important information for them (for example, one of your friends just got arrested) let them know. Don´t distract them otherwise. To report arrests on May Day in NYC, call the NLG at 212-679-6018. To help, text OWS-JS to 774-254-4697.
(13) Know how to Mic Check: One easy way to convey information to large groups of people is by using the People’s Mic. One person (or a few people) first yell ¨Mic Check!¨ Everyone who hears them responds by echoing ¨Mic Check!¨ After that, one person says a few words and pauses to let the crowd repeat those words. If you hear someone mic check, let them know by repeating too; that way, the people around you can also listen. However, if you disagree with what someone is saying, you don’t have to repeat it. This is a useful way to make spontaneous, democratic decisions. However, you should also be aware that false or misleading information can sometimes spread quickly this way, so don’t assume something is true just because it was said over the People’s Mic. (Hint: If you hear people chanting ¨Shame!¨ or ¨The whole world is watching!¨ it often means that police brutality and/or arrests are happening nearby. If you’re trying to avoid arrest, go the other way. Or, if you want to help or document, head over!)
(14) Smart phones: If you have one, install free aps like Twitter and Livestream so you can keep up on what´s going on elsewhere. There might be something important happening just a block away, but impossible to see. The best way to get up-to-the-minute information is by following Twitter accounts. Here are a few: #M1NYC | #M1GS | #GeneralStrike | #MayDay | @OWSMayDay | @OccupyGenStrk | @StrikeEverywher | @OccupyGenStrike. However, as with Mic Checks, be aware that information on Twitter might not be 100% accurate.
(15) Know your rights: The ACLU has some good basic info on your legal right to protest here. If you are a transgender or gender non-conforming, check out this helpful document for trans people participating in direct actions. If you are an active duty Service Member, note that your rights are different. (See below for some more helpful information if you are worried about being arrested.)
(16) Drums, whistles, noisemakers, giant puppets: They’re fun!
(17) WHAT NOT TO BRING: Illegal drugs, weapons, your address book, anything that could be potentially incriminating (including pictures on your cell phone).
Have Fun! Get the word out! Let me k now how it goes.
- “99 Picket Lines” Underway as Immigrant Rights Groups, Occupy Wall St, and Unions Gear Up for May Day (occupywallst.org)
- NYC Council Demands Federal Oversight Of NYPD Following Brutal Occupy Crackdown (alexanderhiggins.com)
- NYC Full Schedule of Permitted and Unpermitted May Day 2012 Actions (occupywallst.org)
- Four Ways to Support Re-Occupation (occupywallst.org)
- Occupy movement promises Labor Day disruption (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- May Day 2012: a real Labor Day (maureenholland.wordpress.com)
Shepherdstown is celebrating May Day today… May Pole and other activities plus a parade at 11:00 AM are in store for all of us here.
Some years ago, May Day was known as the worldwide celebration of Communism and related Labor Movements… but I believe that this is why the US Govt. set our Labor Day as the first Monday in September instead of May 1 to take the focus off any Socialist Labor movement (the U.S. Congress even designated May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958 due to the day’s perceived appropriation by the Soviet Union). Most of the world looks at May 1st as International Workers’ Day and uses it as a time for labor protests.
And we dance around May Poles. Go figure.
UPDATE 1:20 PM:
The May Day Parade was fun… I just got back. Sat in front of Mellow Moods coffee house with my camera and watched it go by.