[OPE] Rosa Luxemburg, "What Are the Origins of May Day?" (1894)

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Fri May 01 2009 - 06:54:45 EDT

According to Luxemburg, the origin of May Day as a workers
holiday was in Australia.


In solidarity, Jerry

Rosa Luxemburg
What Are the Origins of May Day?

Written: 1894. First published in Polish in Sprawa Robotnicza.
Published: From Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, tr. Dick
Howard, Monthly Review Press, 1971, pp. 315-16.
Online Version: marxists.org April, 2002.
Transcribed: http://www.ultrared.org/lm_mayday.html.
Proofed: by Matthew Grant.

The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to
attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there
decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with
meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour
day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the
Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first
celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia,
enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat
the celebration every year.
In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own
strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves? What
could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the
workshops than the mustering of their own troops? Thus, the idea of a
proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to
spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole
proletarian world.
The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the
Americans. In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal
work stoppage. On this day 200,000 of them left their work and demanded the
eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for
many years from repeating this [size] demonstration. However in 1888 they
renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1,
In the meanwhile, the workers' movement in Europe had grown strong and
animated. The most powerful expression of this movement occurred at the
International Workers' Congress in 1889. At this Congress, attended by four
hundred delegates, it was decided that the eight-hour day must be the first
demand. Whereupon the delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from
Bordeaux, moved that this demand be expressed in all countries through a
universal work stoppage. The delegate of the American workers called
attention to the decision of his comrades to strike on May 1, 1890, and the
Congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian celebration.
In this case, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers really
thought only of a one-time demonstration. The Congress decided that the
workers of all lands would demonstrate together for the eight-hour day on
May 1, 1890. No one spoke of a repetition of the holiday for the next years.
Naturally no one could predict the lightning-like way in which this idea
would succeed and how quickly it would be adopted by the working classes.
However, it was enough to celebrate the May Day simply one time in order
that everyone understand and feel that May Day must be a yearly and
continuing institution [...].
The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even
after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the
struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class
continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly
expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working
class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably
celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings
of the past.

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