April showers bring May—day. It’s the first of the month and you keep seeing (and hearing) the words “May Day.” What does it all mean?
We’ve created a cheat sheet with the 411 on what is also known as Traditional International Workers’ Day.
What it is:
- May Day originated in the U.S. (contrary to popular belief) and stems from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane: a celebration of rebirth and fertility.
- Traditional International Workers’ Day was born out of the working class’ constant struggle to gain an 8-hour work day.
- In 1884, The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor) stated that eight hours would equal a legal day’s work starting May 1, 1886. (Whew, could you imagine a school day being longer?)
- On May 1, 1886 over 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the U.S. walked off their jobs in support of an 8-hour day.
- 40,000 people went on strike in Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day supporters.
- On May 3, 1886, a demonstration at a McCormick reaper plant in Chicago ended in the killing of several demonstrators.
The Haymarket Massacre:
- A massive rally of 25,000 people was planned for May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square.
- However, only about 3,000 showed up.
- As the crowd began to dwindle, tons of police showed up and demanded that the remaining onlookers leave. It was then that someone threw a bomb and gunfire erupted. (Yikes.)
- At least seven policeman and four demonstrators were killed. And about 60 police were wounded.
- Eight men were eventually charged and sentenced to death for starting what became the “Haymarket Riot.”
- The bomber was never identified. And May Day became formally recognized the following year.
- It has become a focal point for demonstrations by labor organizations and workers.
- Today, Occupy protesters are participating in a general strike across the country to show the “1 percent” what life would be like without the “99 percent.”
What can you do
- Organize a rally about your cause.