There’s May Day, and there’s May Day. This one on May 1st , 2017 isn’t about flowers and flagpoles. It’s a march on International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Haymarket Square Affair in Chicago on May 1, 1886 when 40,000 workers in newly-formed trade and labor unions and another 300,000 workers nation-wide went on strike demanding an eight-hour work day. Violence ensued during the next three days, and over 200 people were wounded including women and children.
On May 3rd several McCormick Reaper workers on strike, most of whom were immigrants, were shot and murdered by Chicago police. Then on May 4th a bomb was thrown, allegedly by a German anarchist, into the ranks of the policemen, killing one of the officers. Six more police were killed in the chaotic melee of the notorious “Haymarket Massacre.” Already brewing anti-immigrant sentiment was exacerbated by the riot. Seven men were accused of the bomb throwing without conclusive proof. Four of them were hanged after a “speedy” but vengeful and unjust trial.
Despite diminishing public support for labor unions and workers’ rights, the nation-wide labor movement persevered and finally in 1916 railroad workers won the the right to an eight hour work day. Most Americans didn’t obtain that shorter work day until the 1950s.
In more than 66 countries, May First is celebrated as a national public holiday, a tribute to the struggles and successes of the labor movement. Ironically, the U.S. does not recognize May Day as an official holiday. Instead, Labor Day became an alternative to May Day rallies and labor demonstrations, celebrating the generalized “dignity” of work.
But we will be marching on May Day to honor all workers, past and present, and to celebrate the heritage of Lynn. This is the legacy of the Haymarket Strike and workers’ solidarity. Let’s Rise, Resist, and Organize!