The Origins of May Day as a Workers Day

 

Haymarket_Martyr's_Memorial

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By Zol87 from Chicago, IL, USA – Haymarket Martyr’s Memorial, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7831977

May 1, 2017 (San Diego) May Day may have started as a pagan holiday, but it became a holiday for workers in the United States and the rest of the world after the Haymarket Riot on May 4, 1886. This rally was called for, to fight for the 8 hour day, which was not standard in 1882. Nor was the 5-day working week. Those were in the future.

During the rally, somebody threw a bomb, and Chicago Police shot back, and in the end, 7 people died. The first event of those four fateful days was on May 1st when the Industrial Workers called for a general strike across the United States.

Ob May 27 8 men were indicted: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Oscar Neebe, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden. On November 11, 1887: Parsons, Spies, Engel, and Fischer were executed. Their funeral was followed by 150,000 people, and while Americans don’t remember these events. They are known as the heroes as the heroes of the Haymarket around the world.

May 1 around the world is held to celebrate workers rights, the 8 hour day, the 5 day week, the 2 day weekend, and to remember these men. They were anarcho-syndicalists. Three of the men indicted were later pardoned by the Governor of Illinois.

Today, the notion of freeing three innocent men from the jail cells where they had languished for seven years seems not only logical but popular. But when Altgeld boldly scrawled his name across the pardons for Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab on June 26, 1893, he unleashed upon himself a torrent of political and personal abuse from such “respectable” organs as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times that has rarely been matched.

Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab were the survivors of the Haymarket martyrs–originally a group of eight men who were charged with murder following the explosion of a bomb at a Chicago labor rally on May 4, 1886 that killed several policemen. None of the eight was ever tied to the bomb, some were not even at the rally when the explosion occurred and the bombthrower was never found. But the Chicago establishment, led by Joseph Medill’s Tribune, saw the incident as a chance to wipe out the leadership of the city’s radical labor movement and send a message to all who would seek just wages, decent working conditions, and reduced hours for working men and women.

The tomb of the heroes of the Haymarket is still in Chicago. The history has mostly been forgotten by Americans. However, there are parallels these days to the events of the 1880s, with the Fight for $15 and other labor organizations. There is also a rising consciousness among labor and labor organizers and an effort to recapture the day for American labor. Why there were marches around the country.

 



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