For most Americans, shutting down their laptops or going out at the end of an eight-hour shift at a restaurant or construction site is the norm, give or take about half an hour for lunch. And as tiring as a day’s work can be, it’s easy to forget that more than a century there are people who have died to give us the right to an eight hour working day.
Much of the radical working-class tradition in this country has been erased by our political leaders’ allegiance to big business and a reverence for markets and capitalism. But the minimum number of rights still granted to workers in 2021 stems from the 19th century unionists, anarchists, and the socialists who first challenged the capitalists who created the abominable working conditions of the industrial revolution.
One of the key moments in the history of organized labor came on May 1, 1886, when 300,000 workers quit their jobs across the country in an organized strike, leading to several days of protest and tragic violence that would go down in history the recognition of Help-a day of international workers’ solidarity.
What is May 1st?
We tend to think of Labor Day as a day of honor to the workers of this country because it offers a day of rest in the form of a public holiday. As Labor Day arrived on the heels of the hustle and bustle of work –more precisely, by following the 13 workers died in the Pullman strike of 1894–he presents a more sanitized celebration of workers now more closely associated with sales at big box retailers that trade unions or radical reformers. Labor Day was officially recognized as a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1984, and since then the perception has followed that September is the only moment when the United States formally recognizes the contributions of the popular classes to the history and the social fabric of the country.
This is simply not the case. May 1st is the original Labor Day, and even if it is not officially recognized by the american government, it is a quintessentially American phenomenon, although a now recognized around the world every year by dozens of countries.
How was May 1st born?
So how did this international day of workers’ solidarity come about? To answer this we need to plot the black clouds of American industry dating back to their origins in chimneys the 19th century, when the Second Industrial Revolution saw children crawl through coal mines and dozens of workers die every year due to dire working conditions. Galvanized by a growing sense of collectivism and an emerging faction of vocal labor organizations such as the National Labor Union, formed in 1866, workers in industrial centers across the United States began to demand their rights.
A key moment in this pursuit came in 1884 with the rise of the “eight-hour movement”,when the The Federation of Organized Trades and Unions held its national convention in Chicago, stating that, “Eight hours will constitute a legal working day from May 1, 1886.” It was a feeling that would later prove to be prophetic, but not without years of struggle and bloodshed.
The Haymarket Riot
Chicago had long been a hotbed of agitation and organization, with a railway strike 1877 erupting in violence. Almost ten years later, looks like agitation endured. Like may 1st The deadline set by FOTLU was approaching, “A quarter of a million workers in the Chicago area are directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly , the Socialist Labor Party and the local Knights of Labor, ”according to an archived synopsis published by Industrial Workers of the World in 1993.
At first the demonstration was relatively calm, but everything changed on May 3, when a demonstration at McCormick Reaper Works ended in a violent skirmish between demonstrators and police which ended in the death of a few workers. The next day, a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square was held to protest the killings the day before. At first, proceedings were calm, with even Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison in attendance.
Tranquility gave way again to violence when someone threw an explosive at the police; the person responsible was never identified, but the action prompted the police to shoot their weapons indiscriminately among rally participants during speech of activist and editor of the newspaper August Spies.
As the story explains, what followed became known as the Haymarket Riot, and sparked a bloody legacy:
Police and perhaps some members of the crowd opened fire and chaos ensued. Seven police officers and at least one civilian died as a result of the violence that day, and countless more were injured.
The friction between U.S. Authorities and the labor movement continued from there, with several prominent organizers convicted and executed for alleged links to the Haymarket incident.
As the IWW explains in more detail:
Eight anarchists – Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg – were arrested and convicted of murder, although only three were even present at Haymarket and these three were at for all to see. all at the time of the bombardment.
As Haymarket’s memory loomed large in the minds of the labor movement and beyond, more and more unions clung to the idea of an eight-hour day as a necessity.
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt included politics in his presidential platform, paving the way for the idea of reaching a mainstream societal acceptance. It was not until 1916 that a law supporting a the eight-hour working day was adopted by Congress, in the form of the Adamson Act, which allowed the railway workers right. It was the first law of its kind to apply specifically to workers employed by private companies.
Yet IIt wasn’t until the Great Depression and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Law (which was later replaced by the Wagner law), so that the right to maximum hours and minimum wages apply to workers at the federal level.
Without the Haymarket legacy and the essential actions taken May 1, 1886, it is difficult to see how all of this would have been possible. Although there is no concrete link between May 1 and the possible adoption of a eight hour working day, at least as codified in law, it is indisputable that the efforts of tho19th century activists played a key role in achievingstandard concession.
May 1 today
Today, May 1st is an important day of solidarity for anyone with class consciousness in the United States, but oddly, it’s not really celebrated in the USA. TThe spirit of Haymarket, however, possesses been recognized in various other countries, especially in Europe, whbefore it is spent in the form of public holidays.
While we can thank Grover Cleveland for Labor DayMay 1 has been virtually erased from the American calendar, in part because of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s promise to May 1 “Law Day“—An ironic oath of allegiance to the so-called” rule of law,And the forces that turned out to be the leader opponents of Labor movement.
That doesn’t mean you cannot keep the May Day spirit alive, and watch it with the fullest extent of his history in mind. Tits May 1st, think of workers who sacrificed their lives to give you the right to organize your workplace and end your jobday after eight o’clock.