May Day– more than any other day– is a holiday for the 99%. For decades, on May 1, workers around the world have honored the memory of Haymarket Square and striking Chicago workers who were fighting for an 8-hour work day.
The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago.
It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians, and the wounding of scores of others.
In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants were commuted by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby to terms of life in prison, and another committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial. [Emphasis added.]
The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers. The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark on March 25, 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated at the site in 2004. The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in nearby Forest Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, May Day was not celebrated widely in the US. On the TV news, we watched May Day marches in the Soviet Union, and the corporate media billed May Day as a Communist holiday. Thanks to selective education in the public school system, I had no idea that May Day was connected to early battles for workers’ rights in the US.
As wealth inequality between the 99% and the 1% has grown, the US economy has crumbled, forclosures and layoffs have skyrocketed, unions have been attacked, and the middle class has dwindled, May Day has grown in popularity in the US. In 2010, with the passage of SB1070 by the Arizona Legislature, immigration reform and the rights of the undocumented became a May Day cause. Thousands marched in Phoenix and across the US.
Although immigration reform, pay equity, and economic and social justice are pivitol May Day issues, we must remember that May Day is not a Soviet holiday, not a Communist holiday, not a Latino rights holiday, not a women’s rights holiday, not a gay rights holiday, not a black power holiday. May Day is a workers’ holiday.
There are two types of people in the world–workers and owners. As long as the 99% willingly divide themselves with words and deeds into warring factions, we will not win this struggle.
In the spirit of May Day, here is John Nichols of The Nation, speaking in Tucson this year, about uprising, the Occupy movement, and the importance of worker solidarity. Below are links to related videos.