Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Do You Know About May Day?

American ignorance about the socialist movement, and the timidity with which even MSNBC hosts refer to a more than 100 year old worldwide holidy, was just brought home to me as I watched the end segment of Chris Hayes’ weekly show ‘Up’ on MSNBC.  It could be called ‘Peeping Out of the Closet’.

In a time-limited soundbite, one of Chris’s guests, whose name I regrettably did not catch, noted that events in Chicago over a hundred years ago gave rise to a holiday which has ever since been celebrated around the world - but not in the U.S., which celebrates Labor Day in September.

Pursuing the history, the only detailed article I found on the internet at, relates the Haymarket riots in Chicago, which occurred in 1896 after employers had been refusing to institute the eight-hour day demanded two years earlier by the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor.  A general strike on May 1st, 1886 in which 350,000 workers participated countrywide, turned bloody on the third day in Chicago when police opened fire.

You can read the details at the above link, but what I want to point out here is that three years later, in 1889, the Second Congress of the Socialist International voted to commemorate the Haymarket massacre, and the following year, massive demonstrations were held across Europe, calling for an eight-hour day and other benefits.  Gradually May 1st became workers rights day throughout the world - except in the United States.

While the European campaign for the eight-hour day followed the American campaign, American workers were deprived of a potent symbol of worker power. They are allowed a day off at the end of summer, in an emasculated version a holiday which, in the rest of the world, emphasizes workers‘ rights.

Better late than never, this year the Occupy Movement is putting May 1st back on the American labor calendar.  See your local Occupiers for details.

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