Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The First May Day

I celebrated May Day in Minneapolis. The theme was for immigrant's rights, and the march was mostly composed of Latinos. With presidential elections coming next year, at this time in the election cycle, reformists try not to embarass candidates, and tone down politics. I will at another time, discuss the reformist and Maoist demand for legalization of immigrants, versus amnesty.

Be sure to read at Marie's blog for a report about May Day in Argentina, in addition read Marxist from Lebanon's interesting May Day post, and Maryam Namazie's account of May Day in Iran.

This history of May Day is reprinted from In Defense of Marxism.

by Terry McPartlan
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

May Day, international workers' day. On every continent the advanced layers of workers and youth celebrate interna tionalist ideas and the struggle of the Labour movement. No surprise that the Tories in Britain tried to eradicate the holiday. No surprise either that workers' demonstrations are the focus of state repression around the world.

But where does the modern May Day come from, who started it and why?

May Day sprang from the struggle of the American working class. In 1884 the American Federation of Labor adopted the following demand:

"Resolved by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, that eight hours shall con stitute a legal day's labor from May 1st, 1886, and that we recom mend to labor organizations throughout their jurisdiction that they so direct their laws as to con form to this resolution by the time named."

This slogan became the focus of a whole series of movements around the eight- hour day.

On May 1st 1886, Albert Parsons of the Chicago Knights of Labor led 80,000 workers on a demonstration through Chicago in support of the campaign for an 8-hour day. They weren't alone. Within a few days 350,000 workers took strike action across the country involv ing 1200 factories. 70,000 struck in Chicago alone.

August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter workers on May 3rd. Following the meeting many of the participants moved down the street to harass scabs entering the McCormick plant. The police arrived, opened fire, and killed four people, wounding many more.

On May 4 Spies, Parsons, and Samuel Fielden were speaking at a rally of 2,500 people held to protest the police massacre when 180 police officers arrived, led by the Chicago police chief. While he was calling for the meeting to disperse, a bomb exploded, killing one policeman. The police retaliated, killing seven of their own in the crossfire, plus four others; almost two hundred were wounded. The identity of the bomb thrower remains unknown.

On June 21, 1886, on the back of a huge red scare campaign eight labor leaders, including Spies, Fielden, and Parsons went on trial, charged with responsibility for the bombing. The trial was rife with lies and contradictions, and the state prosecutor appealed to the jury: "convict these men, make an example of them, hang them, and you save our institutions."

Each of the eight accused men spoke in court. Here is an excerpt from the address of August Spies:

"The wage-workers of this city began to object to being fleeced too much - they began to say some very true things, but they were highly disagreeable to our patrician class; they put forth well, some very modest demands. They thought eight hours hard toil a day for scarcely two hours' pay was enough.

"This lawless rabble had to be silenced!

"The only way to silence them was to frighten them, and murder those whom they looked up to as their 'leaders.' Yes, these foreign dogs had to be taught a lesson, so that they might never again inter fere with the high-handed exploitation of their benevolent and Christian masters."

Seven of the accused were sentenced to die and one to 15 years imprison ment. The trial was condemned by the Chicago bar and some years later all were pardoned by the Governor, not before four had been hanged and one had committed suicide.

Two hundred thousand took part in the funeral either walking behind the coffin or lining the streets.

May Day was born of the struggle of the working class and it celebrates that struggle, across the world today.

Today, Latin America is at the forefront of the international movement of the working class. But that struggle involves us all and will spread across the globe again.

Workers of all Countries unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains!



Anonymous said...

Happy May Day my dear Brother!

Marie Trigona said...

This May Day was a very solemn event. Only a month ago, a public school teacher was killed during a protest for better salaries. Carlos Fuentealba presente! My hommage to the 8 Chicago Anarchist Martyrs. Their spirit lives on in our struggle.

troutsky said...

We planted the Red and Black flag on the Missoula Courthouse lawn after a rousing march through the streets. The IWW has been re-established in Montana, giving people a real alternative.

Graeme said...

given the beginnings, it is crazy that May Day isn't a national holiday in the US.

Aaron A. said...

Yes it is sad. I think most Americans today associate May Day with the distress signal in radio communications, "mayday mayday"

RennyBA said...

Belated Happy May Day! Great post - come on over and see how we celebrate in Norway:-)

roman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
roman said...

The 8 hour work day is pretty much taken for granted by most workers. It's as if it was a force of nature and always existed. It is amazing that most workers do not realize that the genesis of this simple rule was possible only because of the lives sacrificed in those Chicago strikes.
graeme puts forth an important point. Why is May Day not a national holiday? It is a day that has all the essential elements needed. It ended the exploitation of workers by establishing a simple common rule of an eight hour day. It has workers sacrificing their lives. Its effects are in force today and are a benefit to the overwhelming majority of us workers.
My two cents: the key can be found in this caption "a bomb exploded, killing one policeman". Any action that countermands the rule of law (in this case, the killing of an officer of the law) can never be glorified by any government. This one foolish act forever condemned the movement to "unofficial and unsanctioned" status.
Happy May Day, thanks for the eight hour workday.

Larry Gambone said...

Happy belated May Day, Ren!. Glad to see our US bros and sisters trying to take back Mayday, or perhaps more correctly, pull it back out of the Memory Hole where the Corporate State has shoved it.

Mike Ballard said...

Solidarity from Australia!

An injury to one is an injury to all

beatroot said...

No. Workers of the world unite, all we to lose is our iPods, surly?

troutsky said...

The problem is graver than a "memory hole", this is direct brainwashing. In 1958,Eisenhower officially proclaimed May1 to be Loyalty Day, then he declared it Law Day. I think it still remains both, officially speaking. Orwell couldnt write this stuff.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

cheers and respect to all our active comrades around the world

In Solidarity Yours from Lebanon

Larry Gambone said...

Law Day on May 1! Now that is really sick! The same "just-us" that murdered the Haymarket Anarchists...

Sontín said...

Happy belated May Day from Nicaragua.

We had pro and anti Sandinista workers marches, and on the Atlantic Coast people dace the Palo de Mayo (May Pole Dance) .. a holdover from the British presence there long ago. Although this dance is much faster and much more sexual than anything I have ever seen the British do.

Red Jenny said...

I blogged about it here, but I really recommend reading this cool article on May Day 2.0 which has a neat history of all the various meanings of "may day" and a call to join together varied movements for a grand old celebration on the first of May: labour, environmentalists, etc.