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History of Mayday

by Albert Parsons Thursday, May. 02, 2002 at 8:55 AM
ireaf@yahoo.ie

May 1st is a day of special significance. Its a day of worldwide solidarity. But why Mayday? What is its history?

May 1st is a day of special significance. Its a day of

worldwide solidarity. But why Mayday? What is its

history?

Over a century ago the American Federation of Labour

adopted a historic resolution which asserted that

?eight hours shall constitute a legal days labour from

and after May 1st, 1886?.All across America in the

months prior to this resolution, workers in their

thousands were starting to struggle for a shorter

week. Skilled and unskilled, men and women, black and

white, immigrant and native were all fighting

together. Chicago was the main centre of agitation.

Over 300,000 workers came out on May 1st, and here

Mayday was born.

The Chicago anarchists considered that struggles for

reforms, like the eight hour day, were not enough in

themselves. They considered them as only one battle in

an ongoing class war that would only end by social

revolution. On May 1st, in Chicago, one half of the

McCormick Harvester Company came out on strike. Two

days later the police opened fire on the pickets,

killing one and wounding several more. Outraged, the

anarchists called a protest meeting at the Haymarket

for the next day.

Although the meeting was peaceful, a police column of

180 men moved in and ordered the meeting to disperse.

At that moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the

police, killing one and wounding about seventy others.

The police opened fire on the spectators, killing and

wounding many.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. Eight men, all

anarchists and active union organisers, were blamed

and stood trial for murder. No proof was offered by

the state that any of the eight had anything to do

with the bomb.

In spite of world wide protest, four of the Haymarket

Martyrs were hanged. Half a million people lined the

funeral cortege and 20 000 crowded into the cemetery.

In 1893, the new Governor of Illinois made official

what the working class in Chicago and across the world

knew all along and pardoned the Martyrs because of

their obvious innocence and because ?the trial was not

fair?.

In 1889, the American delegation attending the

International Socialist congress in Paris proposed

that May 1st be adopted as a workers? holiday. This

was to commemorate working class struggle and the

?Martyrdom of the Chicago Eight?. Since then Mayday

has became a day for international solidarity, but has

also been used as a day of celebration by reformist

trade unions and authoritarian communist groups alike.

It is not surprising that the real history and meaning

of Mayday are hidden. If the anarchist ideas of the

Chicago Martyrs became better known and put back into

practice, the trade union bureaucrats and labour

politicians who run the labour movement would be out

of a job! The ?Chicago Idea? of the Martyrs shows that

there is a real, practical alternative to both the

present labour movement and the present system. That

idea is revolutionary anarchism.

Mayday, like the Labour movement itself, must be

rescued from all those with a vested interest in the

present system. Mayday must again be a day to remember

the past struggles of working class people and a day

to show solidarity with present struggles.



*******************************************************

>From the pages of Resistance#11, regular monthly

bulletin of the Anarchist Federation Ireland. To read,

or download in PDF format, go to:

http://www.afireland.cjb.net



To find out more about the AFI, contact ireaf@yahoo.ie

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