Labor Day: What is the origin and why is it commemorated on May 1?

The origin that motivated the celebration of the International Workers Day dates back to the end of the 19th century. The May 1 In 1886, in Chicago, United States, strikes began demanding a work day of 8 eight hours.

The protests lasted until May 4 when the call was made Haymarket Riot. A mobilization, whose balance left repression of the security forces, deaths of both the police and the demonstrators and the arrest of dozens of workers; 5 of them, later executed. Hence, the date is a tribute to The Chicago Martyrs.

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The claims of the sector were not new, they were already expressed from the terrible working conditions that brought the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain during the eighteenth century. In fact, In 1884, at the fourth congress of the Federation of Workers of the United States and Canada, workers were called to demand an eight-hour workday.

The motto, which was also repeated in other countries, was: “Eight hours for work, eight for sleep and eight for home”. At that time, it was common for employees to have to comply with schedules of 12, 16 and even 18 daily.

Strictly speaking, In 1868, the president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, signed the Ingersoll Act that established the eight-hour workday., but with clauses that allowed to increase them. Still, there were several states and employers that broke it.

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In this historical context, the response of the various labor and trade union organizations of Chicago – mostly made up of anarchists, communists and socialists – was the start of a strike on May 1, 1886.

The demonstration began with more than 80,000 workers. Later, the conflict spread to other cities in the United States and more than 400,000 workers in 5,000 simultaneous strikes went on strike.

On that day, a person whose whereabouts are unknown detonated a bomb that injured 67 policemen, seven of whom died. The security forces then responded by firing firearms at the workers, leaving several of them dead and wounded. The Government declared a state of siege and a curfew; the stoppages ceased. While in the following days the authorities arrested numerous strikers.

On June 21, 1886, the trial of 31 workers accused of having been responsible for the conflict began, of which eight remained. All sentenced: two to life imprisonment, one to 15 years of hard labor and five to death by hanging. They became known as The Chicago Martyrs.

In 1887, the new governor of Illinois criticized the trial and pardoned the unionists who were in prison. In 1889, the Paris congress of the Second International agreed to celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1, to commemorate the “Martyrs…”.

Paradoxically, in Canada and the United States, Labor Day is not commemorated on May 1. Although both countries were decisive in the claim that led to the popular celebration, they have Labor Day there, which is celebrated on the first Monday of September.

Strictly speaking, the date was chosen on September 5, 1882 for a parade in New York, organized by the Central Labor Union. And it was not modified later because although President Grover Cleveland signed in 1894 the proposal of Congress that established a holiday to celebrate Labor Day, he did not want it to be on May 1 because he feared that it would be associated with the events of Haymarket and Similar demonstrations will be called.

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