International Labor Day: Commemorating a U.S. Event

by May 1, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,417 0

"Borderstan""Union" "Labor Day"

You can celebrate workers' rights any day. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Candida Mannozzi. You can reach her at candida[AT]

As many of you know, May 1 marks International Labor Day and is an observed national holiday in many countries around the world. What we may not always remember is that this date was chosen by labor movements around the world as the day to commemorate an event that had actually occurred in the U.S.

In early May of 1886, a workers’ protest outside the McCormick factory on Haymarket Square in Chicago turned violent and was brutally repressed by the local Police. A few days later, anarchists organized a protest for the event and again, shots were fired on the protesters, resulting in numerous victims. A year later, on November 11, 1887, four workers, four labor union organizers, and four anarchists were hanged for organizing the strike and manifestation of May 1, 1886.

President Grover Cleveland decided that commemorating the success of the labor movement in obtaining an 8-hour workday and other basic workers’ rights in early May could ignite repeat protests for the violent events that had also occurred at that time, so in the United States the Labor Day holiday was moved to early September.

In Europe, the Second International congress in Paris ratified May 1 as the official date for Labor Day celebrations in 1889, in commemoration of the events on Chicago’s Haymarket Square.

It seems ironic that the international and widely adopted Labor Day holiday is scheduled to commemorate an event that happened here in the United States, while we observe it during the opposite season, in the early fall.

At a time when many of us are struggling to find work or employment, remembering Labor Day and its history seems especially poignant.

Whenever you decide to observe a day of commemoration for the now widely established eight-hour workdays and numerous other workers’ rights, may it bring you satisfaction and solace, Borderstan!

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