I was surprised when I first learned that an important part of the origin of International Workers' Day, Labo(u)r Day, or May Day, lies in the United States, a country not known for its pro-worker mentalities.
Since the mid-1950s, the United States has celebrated Loyalty Day, initiated as a way to counter communist influence and recruitment at May Day rallies, and Law Day on May 1. But, because neither is a federal holiday, these remain relatively obscure. But also, the US doesn't celebrate Labor Day on May 1. Instead, in the US, Labor Day is on the first Monday in September, after conservative Democratic President Grover Cleveland was too concerned that a labor holiday on May 1 could become a commemoration of the Haymarket affair, strengthening socialist and anarchist movements, which backed a May 1 commemoration.
The Haymarket affair was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on May 4, 1886, in Chicago, which began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour work day.
An unknown person threw a bomb at the police as they acted to disperse the meeting, and the bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians.
In the aftermath, eight men were accused, with seven sentenced to death. Even if only two of the eight were at the demonstration, and the evidence only showed that one of them may have built the bomb that was used.
Eventually, one of the sentenced committed suicide, four were hanged, with the remaining defendants eventually pardoned.
On May 1, 1886, between 300.000 and 1 million workers had gone on strike, attending rallies that were held throughout the United States, marching and singing from the anthem Eight Hour, where the chorus called for "Eight Hours for work. Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for what we will." Then, after an escalation on May 3, also in Chicago, at the May 4 rally, a bomb went off, and people were killed as a consequence.
Not surprisingly, the 8-hour workday movement caught steam because of these events, and, at their first meeting, the Second International, in 1889, declared May 1 as International Workers' Day, as a direct consequence of the violent suppression of the American pro-worker movement, and the Haymarket affair.
Meanwhile, a day after the Haymarket bombing, Wisconsin’s most historic and bloody labor incident occurred on May 5, in Milwaukee. After four days of massive worker demonstrations, also on behalf of the creation of eight-hour workday laws, marchers were ordered to stop some 200 yards away from a line of state militia; when they didn’t, the militiamen fired into the crowd, killing seven.
Each year, still, more than 200 persons gather at the Bay View Rolling Mills historical marker site, in Milwaukee, to commemorate this incident. The next commemoration is this Sunday, May 7.
Notwithstanding recent regressions in terms of labour laws, particularly American labour laws, with in some states the effective reintroduction of child labour, labour laws around the world have seen immense positive change since the late 19th century.
The Second International was dissolved in 1916, breaking up as a consequence of the start of the First World War. Yet, virtually every country in the world now celebrates Labo(u)r Day, Most on May 1.
So, keep marching, your walk might cast a long shadow.
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02 May · Tue · 18:00 (UTC) · Online
Meet the authors who are writing about walking and the landscapes through which we walk, at walk · listen · create’s Walking Writers Salons. We are delighted to have award-winning writer Linda Cracknell join us in May, talking about “Writing Landscape: Taking Note, Making Notes” , a collection of essays writing landsca... Keep reading
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02 May · Tue · 18:00 (UTC) · Online
Meet the authors who are writing about walking and the landscapes through which we walk, at walk · listen · create’s Walking Writers Salons. We are delighted to hav... Keep reading
6 - 7 May, 2023 · Stave Hill Ecological Park - TCV, Timber Pond Road, London SE16 6AX, United Kingdom
Join us for a free sound and ecology festival at Stave Hill Ecological Park, Rotherhithe, over the Dawn Chorus Day weekend. Listen | Visit | Hangout | Camp Join us ... Keep reading
From our network
Day 1118 - Fluxed and 3.7 km drawing. Keep reading
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Day 1116 - Slumped and 3.2 km drawing. Keep reading
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In my family we have a long tradition of putting silly things on our heads acting as a hat. This could be a cardboard box of a piece of plastic, whatever, as long a... Keep reading
Stuff we found
The 130 kilometer route has been designed in several stages and can be completed in around six days. Source: Why You Should Walk This Stunning New Hiking Route Betw... Keep reading
The Municipal Art Society is hosting over 160 walks in New York City from May 5 to May 7, honoring the writer and activist Jane Jacobs. Source: Jane’s Walk 2023 Wil... Keep reading
1 track album Strandhem’s first release is a 32min album-song called “Le Spectacle”, lyrically based on the book by French philosopher and critical theorist Guy Deb... Keep reading