Cheat Sheet: What is May Day?

occupy protesters

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.

Present Day:

  • 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.

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