The Historical Significance of May Day

May Day is a day of celebration and solidarity with the workers of the world. Workers are oppressed and suppressed everywhere! Whether here in the U.S. by the police, the exploitative capitalist class, and the predatory prison system, or around the world by a country’s own capitalist class, occupying imperialist armies, and parasitic multinational corporations. The working people of the world are our allies and friends, it is the ruling classes that are our class enemies. On May 1st we want to express this by joining in solidarity with all the oppressed working peoples of the world, and to celebrate over 100 years of the struggle of Labor.

International Workers’ Day has a long and proud history, starting as a commemoration of those convicted and executed for standing up for the rights of working people at Haymarket right here in the United States, to now being an international holiday for working people all over the world. The U.S. government, always fearful of the power of the working class, has attempted to suppress this holiday over its over one hundred year history, in an effort to break up the power and solidarity of the working and oppressed masses.
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The History Of Our Class Struggle
Our story begins over 100 years ago in the late nineteenth century where the conditions on the jobsite were deplorable, where children and adults alike lost limbs in workplace accidents, where workers experienced fatigue from 16 hour shifts that grinded their strength to the bone. Even before the onset of the Civil War the working class was clamoring for a reduction in the working day by half without a loss of pay. During this time period socialist, anarchist and communist ideas were very popular among the working class. Many were enticed at the promises of a equal and just society where the means of production was controlled by the working class and distribution of goods and services in a more equitable manner. The workers saw first hand that they were seen as expendable commodities meant only to enrich the pockets of the capitalist class that exploited them, they saw firsthand thousands of deaths each year in the workplace, saw that life expectancy was as low as the twenties in some places and were enticed at the promise of socialism. They knew another world was not only possible but necessary. In time many of these socialist, communist and anarchist workers began to collectively organize and form labor unions which demanded an end to child labor and the implementation of an 8 hour work day. At a national convention held in Chicago on October 1884, The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions on May 1st adopted in it’s platform the call for the legalization of the 8 hour work day “from and after May 1, 1886”. As the date approached US labor unions prepared and began to mobilize for a general strike in support of the measure. 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.” In the city of Chicago, which was the epicenter of it all, it was estimated that 40,000 workers went on strike, with twice that number participating in different social venues throughout the city.

 

Haymarket Square Massacre

The tensions in Chicago reached a fever pitch on the night of May 4th, a day after police fired into a crowd of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. On this night people gathered to hear speeches from labor organizers Albert Parsons, August Spies and Samuel Fielden in Haymarket Square, at the conclusion of Fielden’s speech, the Chicago Police arrived en masse and ordered the crowd to disperse. Suddenly a homemade bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police and a shootout occurred in which 6 workers lay dead and as many as 70 were wounded, including 7 police officers. In the immediate aftermath the labor and immigrant community came under heavy repression with raids conducted on meeting halls as well as arrests of labor activists for the next 8 weeks. Talks of “anarchist agitators” and the targeting and arrest of speakers at the Haymarket Square rally constituted the nation’s first “Red Scare” and infiltration of labor groups was conducted by the infamous Pinkerton agency. In the end eight labor organizers, all immigrants or first generation immigrants, were sentenced to die at a show trial conducted by the state. Their names were Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden (who all spoke on the night of May 4th) as well as Louis Lingg, George Engel, Oscar Neebe, Adolph Fischer, and Michael Schwab. The sentences of Fielden and Schwab were commuted to life sentences and the night before his execution Lingg committed suicide in his cell. The next day on November 11, 1887 Engel, Fischer, Parsons, and Spies were hung at the gallows. Before the men were hung August Spies declared, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

 

May Day Los Angeles 2006
May Day Los Angeles 2006

 

May Day Lives On!

More than 100 years after the first May Day in 1886, the labor movement internationally has sought to commemorate International Workers Day as a day of celebration for the fostering of unity between the workers of all countries. May 1st is the official labor day in 66 countries around the globe and unofficially in many more. In a twisted turn of events, it is hardly recognized in the country of it’s origin and the US government has attempted to erase it from the public memory by declaring the holiday “Law and Order Day”. However, recently the holiday is resurging in it’s place of birth by marrying itself to the struggle for immigration reform, which is fitting as the first labor activists in the US themselves were immigrants who invigorated the labor movement from their experiences as workers in their homelands. Ten years ago on May 1, 2006 in the city of it’s birth 700,000 immigrants took to the streets of Chicago demanding immigration reform, in Los Angeles 400,000 took to the streets. By recognizing and uniting the struggle of workers without borders we ensure our collective liberation as oppressed people. It is the working class which produces all things in this world and only by standing together can we put an end to the systemic problems we face in this society, which is built on one of class exploitation and greed. This May Day, come stand with us and show the ruling class and their government that we are proud to be workers and that we will fight for control of the world that we have built!

 



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Join Progressive Youth Organization and friends as we march for May Day a day before in the Northeast and finish off with a picnic in the park.

Time: 4:30 pm

Location: Prospect Plaza Park E. 12th Street & Prospect Avenue, KANSAS CITY, MO

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1219902631354000/

Long Live The Workers’ Struggle!

Long Live May Day!

 

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