Yay, It’s May Day! (International Worker’s Day)

Yay! It's May Day!

Yay! It's May Day!

Hooray! It’s May Day, perhaps originally a pagan festival day, is remembered around the globe with dancing and celebrations.  As the day farthest from November 1st, All Saints Day and November 2nd, All Souls Day, it represents the opposing forces of those days’ gloom, darkness and Christian mystery. It some countries May 1st is celebrated by dancing round a Maypole in honor of the Virgin Mary.

May Day dancers

May Day dancers

In the United States, Labor Day has been substituted for IWD, honoring labor but disassociating it from the historical struggle for workers’ rights.

May Day is honored around the world, except in the U.S., Canada and South Africa, as International Worker’s Day.  It was founded by the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies.  From Wikipedia:

The IWW was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention of two hundred socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the United States (mainly the Western Federation of Miners) who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

The IWW’s first organizers included William D. (“Big Bill”) Haywood, Daniel De Leon, Eugene V. Debs, Thomas J Hagerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris Jones (commonly known as “Mother Jones”), William Trautmann, Vincent Saint John, Ralph Chaplin, and many others.

Joe Hill-labor organizer and poet

Joe Hill-labor organizer and poet

International Workers’ Day began in Chicago in 1884 as a spontaneous reaction to the fight for the eight hour day.  Anarchists, socialists and trade unionists fought hard and long to end the practice of extending work hours to as much as 14 per day. hamarket-riot

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative methods had already failed. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, rank-and-file support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union leaders. By April 1886, 250,000 workers were involved in the May Day movement.

The heart of the movement was in Chicago, organized primarily by the anarchist International Working People’s Association. Businesses and the state were terrified by the increasingly revolutionary character of the movement and prepared accordingly. The police and militia 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 clothing cutters, shoemakers, and packing-house workers. But on May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works Factory, killing four and wounding many. Anarchists called for a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality.

After the gathering in Haymarket Square began to disperse, large numbers of police moved into the crowd with force and violence.  A bomb was thrown at the police and the police opened fire.  Many police and demonstrators were killed or injured.  Although there was no evidence linking specific demonstrators to the bomb, several high profile activists were arrested with many later hanged.

Hanged Haymarket activists

Hanged Haymarket activists

Today, there is no vigorous IWW but workers and labor activists see the threat to job security and a living wage in jeopardy throughout the industrialized world.  Demonstrators gathered by the hundreds of thousands to express the angst felt by all worker irrespective of the types of work in which they are engaged.

May Day Labor Protest-Turkey

May Day Labor Protest-Turkey

Today workers face the threat of globalization, the destruction of trade unions and the ability of employers to move service work off shore by digitizing data and move manufacturing to the cheapest sources of labor in the third world.

However much threat workers are under, things are bound to get worse before they get better.


2 Responses to Yay, It’s May Day! (International Worker’s Day)

  1. Cinie says:

    A little off topic, but I don’t know how familiar you are with Black Agenda Report. They’ve got some interesting posts this week, they usually do. I’m not 100% on board with everything they offer, but, on the whole they make a lot of sense. Bruce Dixon’s 100 Day Report Card, and Paul Street’s essay caught my eye.

  2. patriotdems says:

    Thanks for the tips, Cinie.

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