Today is May Day, the day that celebrates International Workers Day. This article describes its origins as the day in 1886 where a massive number of workers in the US went on strike demanding an eight-hour workday.
In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard. As the chosen date approached, U.S. labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour day.
On Saturday, May 1, thousands of workers went on strike and rallies were held throughout the United States, with the cry, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay.” Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million. In New York City the number of demonstrators was estimated at 10,000 and in Detroit at 11,000. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, some 10,000 workers turned out. In Chicago, the movement’s center, an estimated 30,000-to-40,000 workers had gone on strike and there were perhaps twice as many people out on the streets participating in various demonstrations and marches as, for example, a march by 10,000 men employed in the Chicago lumber yards.
There was a tragic aftermath on May 4, 1886 at Haymarket Square in Chicago when a bomb was thrown at a rally by striking workers protesting the killing by police of several workers the previous day. The bomb killed seven police officers and at least four civilians and injured many more.
May Day is a big public holiday celebrated by workers all over the world but no longer in the US, perhaps because it is so closely associated with communists and socialists and the working class.
This week there have been a lot of items in the news about the 40th anniversary of what is referred to as the ‘fall of Saigon’. April 30, 1975 had seen the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon, signifying the end of the US war effort in Vietnam. I think that many people in the US who mourn that defeat do not quite realize that much of the world, especially those nations that had suffered under colonialism and imperialism, did not see the US being in Vietnam as a noble war against the spread of communism but more as another sign of imperial ambition that had to be thwarted, and they welcomed its expulsion.
The last May Day celebration I personally attended was on May 1, 1975 in Colombo, Sri Lanka and much of that event was spent celebrating the previous day’s news from Vietnam.