2. United States: Celebrated in the United States as the end of summer, on the first Monday of September.
Origins of U.S. Labour Day: In 1882, Peter J. McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, and Matthew Maguire of the International Association of Machinists, make a proposal to the Central Labor Union of New York that a celebration be held to honor the working class. Thier suggestion comes just five years after the Battle of the Viaduct in Chicago – where U.S. troops suppressed a strike with a hail of bullets killing 30 workers. In New York, the Central Labor Union agrees to thier proposals, and on September 5, 1882, 30,000 union workers march through New York City making for the first Labor Day demonstrations. By 1885, other labor unions in the major industrial centers throughout United States begin demonstrating on Labor Day.
In 1887, after the Haymarket and Bayview massacres, in an attempt to appease workers and calm the growing uproar throughout the nation, five U.S. states recognize Labor Day as a holiday. Several months later, 35 African-American sugar workers are shot dead for striking; the leaders of the strike are publicly hanged.
This day of working class solidarity and organisation, barely yet started, with the yoke of capitalist exploitation increasing its weight, begins to take on an even greater meaning, as class conflicts between the working class and capitalists flare up.
In July 6, 1892, steelworkers of the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers, go on strike in Homestead Pennsylvania, after having their pay cut by up to 25 percent. Henry C. Frick, head of the Carnegie Steel Company, refuses to pay the workers thier due wages, and instead hires scabs to work the factory. The Pinkerton guards at the Carnegie steel mill move into the strike to break up the workers and let the scabs pass-through. The striking workers resist the guards attempts to let in the scabs, and a battle ensues. Three guards surrender in the melee, while others are beaten on by the wives of the workers – seven beaten to death. When the dust has settled U.S. government soldiers arrive to gain control over the town, eleven workers are shot to death. Just five days later, striking miners in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, dynamite the Frisco Mill, leaving it in ruins.
Over the next two years class conflicts become increasingly sharp, while unions lead workers in the struggle to define their position within capitalist society. These conflicts and struggles would reach their precipice in the Pullman strike, and results in nationwide recognition of Labour Day.
In 1894, the Pullman Railroad and landowning company has declining sales, and lays off hundreds of workers. Workers remaining see thier wages drastically cut, while the rent the workers are forced to pay the Company (all workers had to live on Pullman’s land) remains the same. On May 7, the workers form a committee asking to have the rent lowered. Their requests are flatly refused, and three of the workers on the committee have their jobs terminated. Three days later the Pullman workers, organized into the American Railway Union (led by a young Eugene V. Debs), go on strike demanding lower rents and higher pay. Several weeks pass, with no compromises being made by Pullman. On June 26, in an outstanding step of workers solidarity, fellow Railroad workers throughout the country refuse to switch trains with Pullman cars. These workers are fired one after another, with every worker who takes their place continuing refusal to switch Pullman cars. Over 150,000 workers in twenty-seven states join the nation-wide strike, utterly paralyzing the nation’s Railway system.
On July 2, outraged by their loss of control and frigthened by the clear strength of the working class, the U.S. government orders the leaders of the American Railway Union to stop all communications, speeches, and organisation of their union members on strike. On July 3, the strike has gained so much strength and popularity that President Grover Cleveland follows suit and declares striking a federal crime ; ordering 1,936 federal troops, in conjunction with 4,000 national guardsmen, 5,000 deputy marshals, 250 deputy sheriffs, and the 3,000 policemen of Chicago (for a total of a 14,186 strong armed government force), to forcibly disperse the striking workers. The soldiers begin flooding into the town from all directions, cautiously securing their position against workers completed cut off from thier leadership. Workers begin building defensive street barricades by tiping over rail cars. On July 7, troops stand eye to eye with the striking workers, the workers stand their ground, and the soldiers open fire, killing 34 workers, while starting fires that consume 700 railcars and seven buildings.
“The rank and file have let their servants become their masters and dictators. The workers have now to fight not alone their exploiters but likewise their own leaders, who often betray them, who sell them out.” [Mother Jones]
On August 3, 1894, the strike is declared over by the police who have established full domination over the city. Debs and 71 other workers are arrested and imprisoned, many workers are blacklisted and forced into exile, the American Railway Union is forcibly disbanded (it had appealed to the AFL for support, but was refused), and Pullman employees are forced to pledge to never organize themselves again, and go back to work without their rightful wages.
Six days later, the country in the midst of economic depression and a potential working class revolt, the U.S. Congress hastily makes Labor Day a national holiday. These struggles slowly begin the gradual improvement of working conditions for U.S. workers — while more than a hundred years would pass and still workers would be killed for striking, working conditions gradually began to improve, and a few basic workers rights were established within the capitalist system. In over two hundred years, finally granting workers the full freedom capitalism can offer: the freedom to sell one’s labour power to the highest bidder.
Transcribed by B. Baggins
May Day (May, 1)
Celebrated by workers around the world as an expression of their international solidarity and shared political aspirations for freedom.
History: The first of May was originally celebrated by pagans throughout Europe as the beginning of summer, which was recognised as a day of fertility (both for the first spring planting and sexual intercourse). A maypole was oftentimes erected for young women and men to dance around and entwine the ribbons they carried with one another to find a mate… at least for the night. The ancient Celts and Saxons celebrated the day as Beltane, the day of fire, in honor of the god of the sun; beginning their celebrations at midnight; soon acquiring the label Walpurgisnacht, or night of the witches.
Persecution of May Day began as early as the 1600s; in 1644 the British Parliament banned its practice as immoral, with the Church bringing its full force to bear across the spectrum. Governments throughout Europe were largely ineffective in outlawing these celebrations, and thus the Church took a different approach – it attempted to assimilate the festivities by naming Saints days on the first of May. These efforts led to the destruction of May Day in some places, but the traditions and customs of May Day continued to remain strong throughout much of the peasantry of Europe, whose ties to one another and nature were far stronger than their ties to the ruling class and its religion. Celebrations became increasingly festive, especially at night when huge feasts, song, dance and free love were practiced throughout the night.
After the revolutions of capitalism, the roots and principles of the tradition survived to various extents, with workers across Europe celebrating the first of May as the coming of spring and a day of sexual fertility. Most mythical and religious sentiments faded away, but the spirit of the festival in expressing the love of nature and one another gained strength.
Haymarket massacre: In 1884, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions had passed a law declaring that, as of May 1, 1886, an eight hour workday would be the full and legal workday for all U.S. workers – the ruling class had that much time to recognise this new law and put it into effect.
The owners refused.
On May 1, 1886, workers took to the streets in a general strike throughout the entire country to force the ruling class to recognise the eight-hour working day. Over 350,000 workers across the country directly participated in the general strike, with hundreds of thousands of workers joining the marches as best they could.
In what they would later call the Haymarket riots, during the continuing strike action on May third in Chicago, the heart of the U.S. labor movement, the Chicago police opened fire on the unarmed striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works, killing six workers and wounding untold numbers. An uproar across the nation resounded against the government and its police brutality, with workers’ protest rallies and demonstrations throughout the nation set to assemble on the following day.
On May 4, Chicago members of the anarchist IWPA (International Working Peoples’ Association) organized a rally of several thousand workers at Haymarket Square to protest the continuing police brutality against striking workers on the South Side. As the last speaker finished his remarks that rainy evening, with only 200 of the most dedicated workers remaining at the rally, 180 armed police marched forward and demanded the workers to disperse. Then, deep within the police ranks, a bomb exploded, killing seven cops. The police opened fire on the unarmed workers – the number of workers wounded and killed by the cops is unknown to this day. Eight anarchists were arrested on charges of “inciting riot” and murder. The retaliation of the government was enormous in the days to follow, filling every newspaper with accusations, completely drowning the government murders and brutality of days past.
Eight workers were convicted as anarchists, were convicted of murder, and were convicted of inciting a riot. Only one of the eight men accused was present at the protest, and he was attempting to address the crowd when the bomb went off. In one of the greatest show trials in the history of the working-class movement no evidence was ever produced to uphold the accusations, though all eight were convicted as guilty. Four of the prisoners – Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fisher – were executed, Louis Lingg committed suicide, and the three remaining were pardoned due to immense working class upheaval in 1893.
On May 1, 1890, in accordance with the decision of the Paris Congress (July 1889) of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket martyrs, mass demonstrations and strikes were held throughout Europe and America. The workers put forward the demands for an 8 hour woring day, better health conditions, and further demands set forth by the International Association of Workers. The red flag was here created as the symbol that would always remind us of the blood that the working-class has bleed, and continues to bleed, under the oppressive reign of capitalism.
From that day forward (starting in 1891 in Russia, by 1920 including China, and 1927 India) workers throughout the world began to celebrate the first of May as a day of international proletarian solidarity, fighting for the right of freedom to celebrate their past and build their future without the oppression and exploitation of the capitalist state.