May 1st is a day of special significance. Its a day of
worldwide solidarity. But why Mayday? What is its
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
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
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:
To find out more about the AFI, contact firstname.lastname@example.org