Today is May 1, May Day or International Workers' Day. There are people who think the origin of this day took place in a socialist country like the former Soviet Union or Cuba but that is not true. The origin of International Workers' Day occurred in the United States - considered the capital of world capitalism.
However, though May 1 is observed primarily as a day dedicated to labourers across the globe, there have also been other occasions like Beltane festival and maypole dance that had their connections with May 1 and signify the celebration of rebirth and fertility.
Coming to the International Workers' Day, the working class in the late 19th century was in a relentless fight to achieve working days with eight hours of labour. Working conditions in those days were poor as they were unsafe and did not have any time limits.
Deaths were also frequent and the workers started an agitation demanding eight hours of work without any pay cut in the early 1860s and it was only in the 1880s that the protesters were able to unite themselves and proclaim an eight-hour working day. Their employers did not approve of this but yet the workers went ahead with it.
It was an era when socialism was gaining foot and the labour class found it attractive and saw capitalism as a system that only sided with the employers. Several socialist bodies came up in the later half of the 19the century to fight for the workers' liberation and although the prevalent political process was against their interests, the indomitable socialists disregarded the political system and process and took upon anarchism and targeted the hierarchy.
They made their own labour unions and at its national convention in Chicago in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, which later became the American Federation of Labor, declared that a legal day of labour would have eight hours and it would start from May 1, 1886. In 1885, the body reiterated the demand although many had still seen the proclamation as a moderate one. Yet, the movement gained strength.
Then, as May 1, 1886, approached, the mood turned more sombre as even calls for armed confrontation with the capitalists and police were given. Chicago braced for the consequences.
Then on D Day, more than 3 lakh workers in 13,000 business centres across the US walked off to celebrate the first May Day. The anarchists fired up the working class's imagination and they became the enemies of the capitalist class at once.
Though the first May Day went off peacefully, violence broke out on May 3 at McCormick Reaper Works between the demonstrators and the police. Clashes went on for months as the lawkeepers harassed and beat up protesting steel labourers.
There was even an instance of police firing at an agitated demonstration in which the protesters were throwing rocks. At least two demonstrators were killed in the clashes.
It was the next day, May 4, when the actual disaster struck. Some anarchists, who were upset with the May 3 incident, called a public meeting in Haymarket Square in Chicago to discuss the brutality committed by the police.
The police were informed that inflammatory language was being used at the meeting though it was not and personnel arrived on the spot and started dispersing the crowd. At this instance, somebody threw a bomb at the police and the latter retaliated by firing at the crowd. Seven to eight civilians and an equal number of police officers died in the riots. Several were injured.
Eight people were arrested and convicted of murder though only three of them were present at the place of the rioting at Haymarket Square and could be seen even when the bomb was thrown. The trial was controlled by the business leaders and the justice which was delivered was a mockery. Four of them were hung while one killed himself in the jail. The remaining three were pardoned in 1892.
The US doesn't observe May 1 as Labour Day
Today, on May Day, the martyrs of the Haymarket massacre are remembered and the day is observed as an official holiday in over 60 countries. Today, as an irony, the US doesn't observe the day even though it originated on its soil. The reason being the Americans' allergy to anarchism and communism had roughly started around that time.
USA's take on labour day and May 1
The US has its own Labor Day which is celebrated on the first Monday of September following the Pullman Strike of 1894, hence detaching itself with the celebration of the international workers' day.
In 1958, the then US president Dwight D Eisenhower declared May 1 to be observed as "Law Day" to celebrate the role of law in the creation of the US and to further alienate left-wing radicalism.