September 5, 2016 (San Diego) Labor Day is a day of rest to celebrate the Union movement and union achievements in the United States. Yet, there is a day just as critical in the calendar. One that started in Chicago but has almost been forgotten by that same union movement. This is May Day. On May 4, 1886 there was a confrontation between Chicago Police and anarchist at the Haymarket plaza. The exact events are still not clear. Nor is it clear who used a bomb that fateful day. What is clear is that outside the United States, it was designated International Workers Day by the Second International Congress. This happened among European Communists, and that crated that rift.
What is exactly that these workers were demanding? This will be very familiar to you. The eight hour day. In the 1880s the eight hour day, and the 40 hour week, or the weekend, were things that workers wanted. It was not something that management would give them. It was a matter of concern and disagreement if you will. What is also clear is whoever threw that bomb was never found, but labor leaders did hang for it. August Spies was one of the leaders and never mind he was not even there, he was tried, found guilty and hung for it. After all, some police officers did die, and a pond of flesh was desired. It was also one of the first red scares in the country.
In another echo, it also led to a fear of immigrants, since many of these leaders were immigrants themselves. They were organizing German and other Eastern European workers, and of course were vilified in the conservative press of the era.
The trial was a sham, and led to convictions for people who apparently had nothing to do with the bombing. Yet most of the men were either executed or committed suicide.
It had significant effects on American labor. The Knights of Labor was the leading labor organization of the time. to say that they were radical and would not be in favor of incremental change, would be very truthful. They were blamed for this attack and the blood spilled, and this led to their rapid loss of influence, as they were vilified in the press. Many locals did not shutter though, but instead joined the American Federation of Labor, which was far less radical and willing to work for slow incremental change. The AFL would in time join up with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, in effect becoming the AFLCIO. This is the major labor organization today, and the one that most Americans think off when they think of the labor movement.
So as you celebrate labor day, there is another day to remember. One that is celebrated everywhere else, but the United States. While we slowly are recovering that history, it is time to remember those people. They were hung for their belief that you and I could have a weekend, and a 40 hour week, and no child labor. The names of those leaders are as follows:
Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg. Their names are carved on the statue in the cemetery where they lay.
They are remembered abroad as the Martyrs of the Haymarket. In the United Staes, they should be remembered for their direct role in the 8 hour day. Every so slowly more labor organizations in the United States are starting to observe May Day, but it is slow going, as this is an event that has been very well buried.
So happy labor day. The unions brought this day, but it was not accidental that American labor does not celebrate this day in May.