International Workers' Day, also known as Labour Day in some countries, is a celebration of labourers and the working class that is promoted by the international labour movement, socialists, communists or anarchists and occurs every year on May Day (1st May). The date was chosen for International Workers' Day by the Second International, a pan-national organisation of socialist and communist political parties, to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on 4th May 1886. The 1904 International Socialist
Conference in Amsterdam and the Sixth Conference of the Second International called on all Social Democratic Party Organisations and Trade Unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May, for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the
class demands of the proletariat and for universal peace. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the Trade Union and Labour Movement grew, a variety of days were chosen by trade unionists as a day to celebrate labour. 1st May was chosen to be International Workers' Day to commemorate the 4th May 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. Prior to this period, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8- hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were common at many work places. As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labour was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class. At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only
At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only
their bosses while trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the
workplace, with life expectancy as low as early twenties in some industries, and little hope of rising out of their destitution. Socialism
offered another option. A variety of socialist organisations sprung up throughout the latter half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected
into governmental office by their constituency.
But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business
and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process,
which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally,
thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasised worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labour unions were "taken over" by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the
labour unions. At its national convention in Chicago, held in
1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions (FOTLU), which later became the American Federation of Labour, proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1, 1886. The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labour locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike at the root of the evil. Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labour Assembly, the Socialistic Labour Party and local
Knights of Labour. As more and more of the workforce mobilised against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8- hour day, realising that the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction. With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours.
but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists. The names of many; Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers' strength and unity, yet didn't become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted. More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers increased to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3rd, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers. For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the "anarchist-dominated" Metal Workers' Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded. Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. As the speech wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers' wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knew who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police. Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later, evidence indicated that only one of the police’s deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire.
Eight anarchists - Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg - were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred.
The entire world watched as these eight organisers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of them were innocent, but for their politicaland social beliefs. On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg, in his final protest of the state's claim of authority and punishment, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth. Over one hundred years have passed since that first May Day. Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers' Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in about 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more. Words stronger than any I could write are engraved on the Haymarket Monument: Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted - people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people cannot be forgotten or we'll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day. Today, majority of countries around the world celebrate workers' day on May 1ST. In Nigeria, workers converge at the Eagle’s Square, Abuja and other parts of the country to commemorate this public holiday. It is a recognised and well celebrated holiday all workers must observe