[OPE-L:4901] May 1 - International Workers' Day

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 1 May 1997 14:34:05 -0700 (PDT)

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Happy May Day everyone! I thought you might find the following of
interest. Now I'm going to log-off of my computer and join the May Day
festivities in Tompkins Square Park where many squatters and anarchists
are currently gathering./In solidarity, Jerry

Date: Thu, 1 May 1997 14:48:50 -0600 (MDT)
From: Martha Gimenez <gimenez@csf.colorado.edu>
Subject: May 1 - International Workers' Day (fwd)

Dear PSNers,

Today in my Social Stratification Class I asked my students about their
understanding of May 1. Only three hands went up; one student said it
was an European holiday, another said it was a Celtic holiday and another
said it was, in other countries, a holiday for workers. Of course, it is
not surprising that they knew so little about the origins of this holiday.
I told then about the struggles for the ten hour day and the struggles for
the eight hour day which today everyone takes for granted. I know that to
even remember May Day may seem quaint today when globalization seems to
have put an end to history. But, as Braudel said somewhere, "events are
dust" and what counts is what happens in "the long duree." So those of
you who think it is important in a day like this to celebrate labor and
its struggles and accomplishments can find in a little book by Philip S.
Foner, MAY DAY - A Short History of the International Workers' Holiday
1886-1986 (International Publishers, 1986) an excellent source. I am also
forwarding a couple of messages that appeared last year in PSN which you
might want to keep for future reference.

In solidarity,



>From rross@vax.clarku.edu Thu May 1 14:22:03 1997
Date: Fri, 03 May 1996 12:32:58 -0500 (EST)
From: "ROBERT J.S. (BOB) ROSS, CHAIR OF SOCIOLOGY" <rross@vax.clarku.edu>
Subject: Late Mayday (long post)

A few days ago Martha sent us a Mayday remembrance. This jogged my
memory of one Berch Berberoglu sent to psn a while ago that had some
colorful details. In these Dark Times we cultural workers (as Mills
called us) can keep the flame of memory lit with the
help of mutual reinforced memories (MRMs for acronymically inclined).
Herein, another version. Bob Ross
From: IN%"berchb@unssun.scs.unr.edu" 2-MAY-1993 02:25:35.41
To: IN%"rross@vax.clarku.edu"
Subj: MAY 1 International Workers' Day (fwd)

Today is May 1, International Workers' Day. Proletarian greetings to
everyone in every continent and every country, especially the workers of
the world!

Millions of working people around the world are celebrating this important
holiday which originated in this imperialist heartland, the USA.

May Day is a day when the workers the world over demonstrate their
international solidarity. It originated in the United States over a
hundred years ago and grew out of the struggle for the 8-hour day.

The first May Day was in 1886 as hundreds of thousands of workers across
the country paraded for an 8-hour working day. The center of the strike
movement was Chicago, where 80,000 workers participated in a general
strike and effectively shut down the city.

This tremendous demonstration of worker solidarity appalled the U.S.
capitalists who saw their downfall in an organized, disciplined working
class movement aware of its class interests. So, using the police they
framed the militant labor leaders who had helped organize the May Day
general strike. A few days following the May Day march, workers held a
demonstration in Haymarket Square, Chicago, to protest the murder and
beating of strikers at the McCormick Harvester Works. As the meeting was
breaking up, the police attacked the gathering and threw a bomb in the
crowd. The incident was then pinned on the union leaders and they were
hung for it.

But this did not kill the 8-hour movement. In 1889 leaders of the
organized labor movement in various countries met in Paris for the
International Workingmen's Association. They voted to support the 8-hour
fight and set up May 1st 1890 for an international 8-hour day struggle.
On that day workers all over Europe paraded and demonstrated in show of
their international unity for a shorter working day.

Ever since 1890 May Day has been a day when workers celebrate their gains
and demonstrate their unity with the working people of all countries in
their common fight against all forms of exploitation and oppression.


The following moving account of the events at Haymarket Square appears in
CARRY IT ON! by Pete Seeger and Bob Riser (New York: Simon & Schuster,
1985), pp. 56-57.

On May 1, 1886, half a million workers across the country laid down their
tools, vowing not to pick them up until they had won the eight-hour
workday. It was America's most widespread strike. Men and women and
children took to the streets and the parks with picnic baskets and parasols.

In Chicago, the mood was different. As the *Tribune* said, "The railroads
have stopped, the freight houses have closed, no smoke curls from the
factory chimneys. It is like Sabbath." While eighty thousand workers and
their families strolled down Michigan Avenue, Pinkerton detectives and
city police lined the rooftops and National Guardsmen squatted behind
machine guns. The stage was set for riot.

For three days the city waited. Then, on Monday, May 3, the tension broke.
Near the McCormick Harvesting Company on the South side, police broke up a
skirmish with clubs and guns, leaving four workmen dead. Outraged, the
trade unionists planned to hold a protest meeting the next evening at
Haymarket Square.

The next night it rained. Those who attended the meeting waited for hours
for the speakers to arrive. By ten o'clock most of the small crowd had
drifted away. Samuel Fielden, a preacher, was winding up a long rambling
speech. Children were dozing on the laps of their mothers. Men were
standing at the edge of the crowd, whispering among themselves, discussing
how best to escape for a glass of beer.

"In conclusion . . ." Fielden was saying. Suddenly, he stopped. Standing
behind the crowd was a column of 180 policemen.

"In the name of the State of Illinois, I command that this crowd
immediately disperse!" a voice boomed. It was Police Captain John
Bonfield, nicknamed "the clubber" by local people.

"But we are peaceable!" Fielden answered.

The police moved in.

There was a flash of red and an explosion. A dynamite bomb exploded on
the ground between the crowd and the front ranks of the police. Dozens of
people fell to the ground, wounded, killed. Without a moment's hesitation
the police opened fire into the crowd.

"Suddenly it was chaos, the police firing in every direction, the people
running in the darkness, trying to get away, trampling on one another,
falling over dead bodies."

Before the smell of the bomb had even drifted away, seven policemen and
fifteen crowd members lay dead on the pavement.

No one new who had thrown the bomb. But that is not what the papers said.
"Now it is blood!" they screamed. "The mob of Anarchists, crazed with
fanatic desire for blood, poured volley after volley into the police.
Justice demands that these foreign assassins be tried for murder!"

The floodgates of hysteria opened wide. Even the staid *New York Times*
shouted about "Anarchy's red hand!"

Under the urging of Chicago employers, local strike leaders were arrested
and tried--not for murder, because there was no proof for that, but for
"conspiracy." Despite the flimsiest evidence, seven men were sentenced to

"These men are guilty of no crime," admitted one juror, "but they must
hang. Organized labor will be crushed if they hang."


Proletarian greetings,

In solidarity,

Berch Berberoglu
University of Nevada, Reno


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 4 May 94 10:13 MST
Subject: WAVE May Day -- The Real Labor Day

Wasatch Area Voices Express (W.A.V.E.) WOMEN'S EDITION
Volume #1 Issue #5

by Heather Harman

Sunday, May 1, 1994, marks the 107th celebration of May Day. For many, May
Day conjures up visions of flower-baskets and maypole dancing -- certainly
valid associations, but there is another important meaning of May Day that
is being quickly forgotten. May Day is International Workers' Day, a time
for working-class people around the world to reflect on the struggles and
accomplishments of workers, remember our martyrs, and recognize that our
sweat and blood has built and sustains the societies in which we live. It
is also a day for folks to put aside work and thumb our noses at the Bosses.
May Day is an opportunity to plan for the time when we will no longer be
forced to sell our lives to wage slavery; a time to renew solidarity and
celebrate the working-class.

The roots of the holiday go back to the United States in 1884, when the
Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions passed a resolution declaring
that, as of May 1, 1886, eight hours would constitute a full and legal work
day. With workers being forced to spend twelve, fourteen, and sometimes up
to sixteen hours a day on the job, rank-and file support for the eight-hour
day grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union
leaders. By April of 1886, the cause had the support of a quarter of a
million workers, and the second week of May saw 350,000 workers involved in
a general strike for shorter hours. These workers, standing together, were
able to win the eight-hour work day, a right that many of us take for
granted without realizing the very real and personal sacrifices which were
made to secure it.

Business and government leaders were acutely aware that solidarity and class
consciousness threatened their profitable stranglehold over the lives of
workers, and they planned a strong response. The heart of the movement was
in Chicago, and it was there that the Bosses retaliated. In the months
preceding May Day, military and police forces were beefed up and provided
with state-of-the-art weaponry. Chicago's Commercial Club purchased a $2,000
machine gun for the Illinois National Guard to be used against strikers. On
May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd outside the McCormick Reaper Works
Factory, killing four and wounding many. In response, workers held a
peaceful mass meeting in Chicago's Haymarket Square to protest the brutal

The meeting progressed peacefully until 180 police marched in and demanded
that the crowd disperse. As the crowd began to leave and the speakers left
the platform, a bomb was thrown at the police, who responded not by finding
and pursuing the assailant, but by shooting randomly into the crowd of
protesters. They succeeded in killing one worker and wounding many others.

Although it was never determined who threw the bomb, the incident was used
as an excuse to persecute the entire Left and labor movement. Suspected
"radicals" were arrested without charge and suffered at the hands of police
who ransacked their homes and offices. Anarchists were particulary targeted,
and eight of Chicago's most active were framed for the bombing. Only one of
the eight men was even present at the meeting, and he was on stage at the
time of the incident. The other seven were not even in the area at the time.

Nevertheless, despite a gaping lack of evidence to connect them to the
crime, all eight were found guilty. George Engel, Augustus Fischer, Albert
Parsons, and August Spies were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg
committed suicide in prison. The othere three were finally pardoned by the
governor in 1893. Like Joe Hill, Frank Little, and Sacco and Vanzetti, these
men were murdered for their political views and for daring to take a stand
against injustice.

While the rest of the world celebrates May Day, we in the United States are
expected to remember our accomplishments in September, on Labor Day. The
Bosses would have us forget the Haymarket martyrs. They would have us forget
the victory of the eight-hour day movement, and the power we workers have to
change things when we stand together. This helps to divide us. When we
celebrate the accomplishments of Labor separately from the rest of the
world, we quickly lose sight of the fact that our struggles are the same as
those of workers in Guatemala, Thailand, South Africa, and Italy. We must
remember this fact and work together with our sisters and brothers
throughout the world to put an end to exploitation, environmental
destruction, and poverty.

There are those of us who remember May Day, and join with the rest of the
world in commemoration. The Utah Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) will
be hosting a community celebration on Sunday, May 1, 1994, beginning at
noon. It will take place at the Liberty Park Bowery, 900 South 700 East, in
Salt Lake City. There will be live music by Mark Ross and Faith Petric,
discussion by local activists, and free, hot vegetarian meals served by Food
Not Bombs of Salt Lake. This event is free and open to the public. Anyone
with questions can call 627-3790 in Ogden or 485-1969 in Salt Lake.

Set aside May 1st and join us at Liberty Park to celebrate May Day with our
brothers and sisters around the world!


* CopyLeft 1994 by Wasatch Area Voices Express (W.A.V.E.)
Please distribute this article freely.
W.A.V.E. is produced by a collective of students, staff, and faculty from
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