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Why Labor Day is celebrated on May 1st

Por: Dr. Roch, El 30 marzo, 2023

In 1886, workers in the United States were executed after a series of strikes demanding better working conditions.

Every year on May 1, International Workers’ Day is commemorated in honor of the “Chicago Martyrs,” named after a group of anarchist trade unionists who were executed in the United States in 1886 for advocating labor rights. The workers demanded that the working day be reduced to 8 hours, as they had been working up to 16 hours a day. Under pressure from the strikes, U.S. President Andrew Johnson passed a law establishing an 8-hour workday. But the business sector decided not to comply, and workers in the industrial city of Chicago went on strike on May 1.

A movement led by Albert Parsons rallied more than 80,000 workers. It was described as “outrageous and disrespectful” and a “rave of unpatriotic lunatics. To those who criticized it, the demand was “the same as asking for a salary without working any hours.

The conflict spread to other cities, stopping more than 400,000 workers in 5,000 simultaneous strikes. Both the government and the business sector believed that they were facing the beginning of an anarchist revolution.

Two days later, on May 3, police fired on striking workers at the huge McCormick Reaper Works, killing six. Over the next few days, more workers were killed until May 4, when a bomb exploded against the police, an event known as the “Haymarket bombing.”

No one knew who threw the bomb, but chaos ensued as police began firing into the crowd. Authorities arrested seven men in the days following the Haymarket events. Parsons avoided arrest and moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he remained until June 21, when he turned himself in to show solidarity with his comrades. Witnesses testified that none of the eight threw the bomb. However, all were found guilty, and only one of them, Oscar Neebe, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the others were sentenced to death. These eight people became the Chicago Martyrs, and in their memory, May 1 was proclaimed International Workers’ Day.

Today, many countries commemorate May Day as the origin of the modern labor movement. However, some do not – generally British colonized countries – such as the United States and Canada, which celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September, and New Zealand, on the fourth Monday in October.

In Australia, each state sets its own date: the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia; the second Monday in March in Victoria and Tasmania; the first Monday in March in Western Australia; and May 1 in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

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