Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day - 120 Years Later

"The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
- August Spies, November 11, 1887 - moments before his public execution.

May 1, 1886 was the deadline set by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions for the United States to adopt the 8-hour workday. This led to a general strike and the infamous riot at Chicago's Haymarket Square on May 4. Eleven people died in the riots and eight activists were later rounded up and convicted without any actual evidence produced in court. Most of the defendants were German immigrants who were not actually present at the scene of the crime. Historians widely regard this episode as grave miscarriage of justice.

The fact that May Day observances are not part of mainstream American consciousness highlights a sad ignorance of both history and an appreciation of the gains made by labor organizations that continue to erode under the current political climate. The 8-hour workday exists in name only as many believe they cannot "compete" with just 40-hours of labor per week. Though the planned "day without immigrants" demonstrations and general strike set for this year's May Day observance is an encouraging sign that the socio-political significance of this date has not been lost entirely.

3 comments:

Les said...

Thanks for posting this. May Day is a holiday in many other countries in the world, because of the Haymarket Massacre.

Adam said...

Here in a America many people brand anything to do with May as communist. The Right seems to connect labor, unions, strikes, etc, with communism sometimes. Workers gathered together to better their working conditions and wages? Never. The invisible hand will take care of you. What do you think?

Devin Hurd said...

That is the power of "branding" and the right is locked into that with its "disciplined use of talking points" and "staying on message." This usually results in a triumph of style over substance. In the long term, however, "style" starts to smell funky and substance eventually wins out. In this case, the substance is that workers do have a right to fair representation. And that's not communism. It's just common sense.