Saturday, May 1, 2010


Brief History of May Day

May Day began in the U.S. with a strike on May 1, 1886 to demand a limit of the workday to 8 hours. This first ever national strike in the U.S., centered in Chicago, was very successful, with some 350,000 workers taking part. Many sections of the working class, including the building trades, won the 8-hour day. However, during the struggle, police killed 6 striking workers at the McCormick-Harvester plant in Chicago, and 8 of the leaders of the May Day struggle were arrested; 4 of them were hung and others were sentenced to long prison terms.      

Then as now, immigrant workers played a leading role. At that time, many of them were German immigrants. Other leaders included Lucy Parsons, wife of Albert Parsons, one of the martyrs of the May Day struggle, who was of Chicano, African and Native American ancestry.

The fight for the 8-hour day led to the recognition of May 1 as international workers' day. In many countries it is an official holiday. But the leaders of the American Federation of Labor, and later the AFL-CIO, have never recognized May Day as international workers' day. Instead they have held tame rallies or picnics on Labor Day in September, thus separating U.S. workers from the rest of the working class.

In the U.S. until after World War II, militant workers celebrated May Day, with rallies in New York held in Union Square. But with the purges from the unions of communists, socialists and other militant workers by the government and trade union bureaucrats at the start of the Cold War, May Day became a shell of itself. It is time to revive the international militant working class traditions of May Day!


Haymarket Martyrs (1887)

On a May 4, 1886, a Chicago rally called to protest the killing of two workers by police, turned into a violent clash after a bomb was thrown. The chaotic scene that left several workers and seven policemen dead, and the legal aftermath, was to become known as the Haymarket Affair. Two of the leaders who spoke at the rally, Albert Parsons, and August Spies, as well as fellow anarchists George Engel and Adolph Fisher, were arrested, tried and executed by the state in 1887. Louis Lingg was condemned to death, but killed himself in prison. Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe were pardoned in 1893.

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