May 1, 2009

What is May Day?

The Historical Significance Of May Day Celebrations
Johannes T. Kangandjera
(Posted from an email forward)


This day is a commemoration of the historic struggle of the workers throughout the world against capitalism, exploitation, and for safe working conditions and respect for the dignity of workers. It came into being as a result of the successful demand, claims and demonstrations that was carried out under the umbrella of the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions when it passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a day's work from May 1,1884.

The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the demand of eight hours, since legislative methods had failed to address the demand. Workers then were forced by greedy and power hungry capitalists to work ten, twelve and fourteen hours a day under conditions so terrible that most workers succumbed on duty due to ill health and other physiological and psychological ailments.

By April 1886 about 280 000 workers were involved in the May Day movement which demanded an eight hour work day.
Their slogans read as follows: "The only way to get an 8 hour day is by organising."

If you want an 8 hour day, we must make it ourselves!" and another: "We require 8 hours for work, 8 hours for repose, and 8 hours to do what we want and for our own instruction!" The main machinery of the movement was based in Chicago and organised mainly by the Anarchist International Working People's Association. The capitalist bourgeoisie and their cohorts, the State, were terrified by the united front that swept across the entire United States. They increased the Police and the Army in size and supplied them with new and powerful weapons.

The Chicago Commercial Club purchased a US$2000 -00 machinegun for the Illinois National Guard that was to be used against striking workers. On May 3, 1886 the City of Chicago was paralysed by the general strike; stockyards, railroads, factories and other businesses where forced to close. The police fired into a crowd of fleeing strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works Factory, killing four and wounding many workers.

The Anarchists called for a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the unnecessary brutality against unarmed workers. Angry workers began to call for armed retaliation. The mass meeting proceeded without any violent incident and when the last speaker was on the platform, the police numbering 180, arrived with a mandate from the State and the capitalist bourgeoisie to disperse the meeting.

As the speaker was climbing from the platform, a bomb was thrown in the midst of the police platoon, exploding, and killing one officer and wounding about seventy. The response by the police was typically that of brutality, firing randomly in the crowd of workers and injuring about 200 workers and killing many. With no clues as to the source of the bomb, the police arrested eight revolutionary leaders of the Union movement, seven of whom who had not even been present in Haymarket Square at the time of the explosion.

They where charged with amongst others; conspiracy to murder in connection with the Haymarket Bomb blast, incitement and public disorder. They were all found guilty as charged despite the lack of evidence connecting them to the bomb. Only one was present at the meeting, and he was on the speaker's platform.

They were all sentenced to death.

Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged on November 11 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison, and the remaining three were pardoned in 1893. These comrades where arrested, tried and sentenced to death because of their political beliefs and because they fought for the rights of the worker. News of the trial electrified labour movements in the US and Europe.

Protests against the trial were held around the world.

The Socialist International declared May 1 as a day of demonstrations and since 1890 these have been held annually by labour movements and workers forcing official recognition of May Day as a paid public holiday.

In its attempt to destroy the significance of May Day, the United States government declared the May 1 'Loyalty Day'.
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