The first of May is an important occasion for workers around the world, otherwise known as May Day, or International Workers Day. On this day workers of the world are recognized for their contribution to the industrialization of society and their fight for justice and subsequent empowerment of the working class.
It began, for the American workers at least, in October 1884 when trade unionists met in the city of Chicago and rallied around the idea for an 8-hour work day and set May 1, 1886 as the day that they would push to make it the standard. On that day, hundreds of thousands of workers went to the picket lines across the United States to demand those 8-hour work days.
However, on the afternoon of May 3, workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago were targeted by strike-breakers who were protected by the police. As the workers attempted to confront the strike-breakers, they were fired upon by police. Multiple workers were killed, and union leaders called for workers to meet the evening of the following day at Haymarket Square; a commercial hub at the corner of Randolph Street and Desplaines Street.
Despite this worldwide recognition, it is rare in the media or in the halls of Capitol Hill for anyone to realize the importance of this day.
On the night of May 4, an estimated 600 to 3,000 workers met in the square where several speakers, including August Spies, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden, spoke to the crowd about the bloodshed the previous day. At around 10:30 pm, police arrived to break up the meeting. Not long after they arrived, a bomb was thrown from the crowd and exploded, killing several people. A riot quickly ensued, and by the end, at least seven policemen and four workers were killed, with many more injured.
The events that followed the Haymarket massacre would be that of tragedy, where trade unionists were hastily convicted of being responsible and later executed. Soon after, the Haymarket Massacre would lead to the first of May being remembered as May Day or International Workers Day not just by the United States, but by the rest of the world. Despite this worldwide recognition, it is rare in the media or in the halls of Capitol Hill for anyone to realize the importance of this day, leaving May Day’s significance looked over in history classes in high schools and universities all over the world.
To combat this lack of education, it is important for American workers to educate themselves on the importance of International Workers’ Day and use this as a jumping off point to help revitalize the American labor movement to the power it once had decades ago. The workers of the modern United States might have it better than the workers of the late ninteenth century, but only slightly. The gigantic corporations of today are trying to malign workers just as they did in 1886 and seemingly, only the trade unions can protect the workers from exploitation.
Kelly Baker is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in Journalism and Film Criticism. KB819687@wcupa.edu