May Day History

HAPPY MAY DAY!!!!

May 1st is a holiday for many people all over the world, the main one being International Worker’s Day (or May Day). May 1st for the most part, no matter where you are or what it is called is usually a day for marches and political protests, even here in the Russian Federation. May 1st, for some, is also a neo-pagan holiday, a saint's feast day, a day for organized labor and in many countries a national holiday.

International Workers' Day is one of the main celebrations organized by international labor movement and for the most part left-wing movements and usually is marked by demonstrations and marches attended for the most part by working people and the members of labor unions all over the world. It is celebrated officially in over 80 countries and unofficially in many others.

International Workers' Day began as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, Illinois in the US, which occurred in 1886. The event occurred as police were attempting to break up a demonstration by workers for an eight-hour workday. A bomb made of dynamite went off causing the polivce to open fire on the demonstrators and killing dozens, including their own police officers.

In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, after the First International moved from London to New York and for all intents and purposes disbanded, called for massive international demonstrations to mark the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago tragedy. They were so successful that May Day was officially recognized as an annual event by the organization in 1891.

At the beginning of the 19th century the prevailing workday was from sunrise until sunset, making the actual workday up to twenty hours long all over the world. This was especially prevalent in the United States, where the protests and thus the holiday originate. May Day’s roots are inseparable from the struggle for the shorter workday, which began almost at the same time as the factory system in the United States. The demand for the shorter workday is a demand of major political significance for the working class.   

In 1867, in the first volume of Capital, Karl Marx mentioned the eight-hour-workday movement when writing about the class interests of black and white workers. He wrote; In the United States of America, any sort of independent labor movement was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new vigorous life sprang. The first fruit of the Civil War was an agitation for the 8-hour day – a movement which ran with express speed from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California. Marx also called attention to the fact that within two weeks of each other, a workers' convention in Baltimore, Maryland voted for the 8-hour day, and an international workers congress in Geneva, Switzerland, adopted a similar decision.

In 2006 the site Worker’s World stated that a giant had awakened in the heart of imperialist America. They wrote that the “invisible” workers who for decades had been vilified and exploited in quasi-slavery conditions, who get up at dawn to pick the vegetables and fruits we all eat, who work in the crowded and many times unsafe areas of restaurants, shops and food processing plants, who clean and tidy hotels and homes, who take care of children and toil in so many areas for a meager wage with no benefits, were spearheading a revival of working class struggle with a call for a boycott and strike on May Day. Unfortunately not much has changed in the US.

This year the same site states that more than 1 million workers have been deported from the U.S. since the 2008 presidential election and that the systemic racism and violence toward people of color, exemplified by the killing of Trayvon Martin, plus the ongoing and deepening crisis in jobs, housing and education, makes the need for workers and oppressed people to take to the streets on May Day even more decisive. Will something change this year? I seriously doubt it because those in power, better known now as the 1% will not allow it.

The main message behind May Day is the emancipation and the empowerment of the proletariat, something championed by Socialist and Communist movements worldwide, however even the Catholic Church could not ignore this just and universal struggle and in 1955, in an attempt to maintain support and in response to communists dedicated May 1st to "Saint Joseph the Worker".

Classically right-wing governments and fascist movements have traditionally sought to repress the message behind May Day, with fascist governments in Germany, Portugal, Italy, and Spain abolishing the holiday. Even in the US, where the origins of the workers’ holiday lie, the official May 1st holiday is called Loyalty Day, a day when people pledge loyalty the US, a fact from which many conclusions might be reached. In a country built on the exploitation and blood of slaves, immigrants and the poor and the genocide of the Indians, worker’s rights is not something very popular with the ruling class. Where could it all lead?

Happy May Day.