May Day, an official holiday in many countries is often known as International Workers’ Day. It grew out of the 19th-century movement for labor rights and an 8-hour work day.
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women, and children were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours. They were often working in unsafe conditions and up to 10 to 16 hours a day, making death a more commonplace thing in the workplace.
The holiday has a violent start from a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago. In 1886, 2,000 union workers stood in front of McCormick plant, there was a general strike for the right to legally have an eight-hour workday. This strike gathered supporters which then drew police. The police acted to disperse the crowd when an unidentified person threw a bomb. The event led to several police and civilian deaths and injuries. There was then a trial that led to labour leaders and sympathizers executions. It soon spread nationwide to other cities including New York and Baltimore. During a series of protests in Chicago, several protesters and police officers were killed, leading to six suspects being imprisoned under a death sentence. In 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned three of the defendants. Thus, May 1st was set aside as a day to commemorate those who lost their lives in what was to be known as the “Haymarket Massacre” and a celebration of the economic and social achievements of the labor movement.
In an attempt to end these inhumane conditions, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which would later become the American Federation of Labor, or AFL) held a convention in Chicago in 1884. The FOTLU proclaimed “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1,1886.” Oregon became the first state to recognize Labor Day as an official public holiday in 1887, reflecting the growing clout of trade labor unions in the U.S. President Grover Cleveland declared it an official national holiday in 1896. In the United States and Canada, a September holiday, called Labor or Labour Day, was first proposed in the 1880s. It became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty US states officially celebrated Labor Day. Between 1889 and 1904, the holiday’s popularity grew globally and helped establish an eight-hour workday. Globally, the eight-hour workday achieved legality between 1840 to 1915 depending on the country. May Day continued to bring upheavals across Europe in 1933 as these demonstrations brought anti-war struggles among inhumane riots, arrests, and executions. Outlawing May Day during the Nazi era. It wasn’t until Franco’s downfall in 1975 in the postwar period that May Day was tolerated and even recognized as a national holiday. May Day protests played a significant role in the Portuguese revolution of 1974, as well as in the uprisings against apartheid in the 1980s.
How You Can Observe or Celebrate
It is a day to celebrate all workers across the country.
Most celebrate with a parade by trade unions and labour associations.
large-scale political protests organized by socialist groups and labor unions
Get in touch with your local government
Educate yourself on what is currently going on within our unions and what issues need to be resolved.
One small step for people on a local level and one giant step globally for years to come.