As my college beautifully explained how May 1st was celebrated here in Eritrea I felt I should write a bit about the origins and tradition of the International Workers Day. The International Workers Day also known as May 1st is an annualholiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labor Day has its origins in the labor union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.
For many countries, “Labor Day” is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers’ Day, which occurs on 1 May. Some countries vary the actual date of their celebrations so that the holiday occurs on a Monday close to 1 May. The remainder of this article addresses those countries for whomLabor Day is not linked to International Workers’ Day.
May 1st, International Workers’ Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognized in every country except the United States, Canada, and South Africa. Regardless the fact that this specific holiday began in the 1880s in the United States, with the fight for an eight-hour work day, it is not yet officially recognized.
In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative methods had already failed. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, rank-and-file support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union leaders. By April 1886, 250,000 workers were involved in the May Day movement.
The heart of the movement was in Chicago, organized primarily by the anarchist International Working People’s Association. Businesses and the state were terrified by the increasingly revolutionary character of the movement and prepared accordingly. The police and militia were increased in size and received new and powerful weapons financed by local business leaders. Chicago’s Commercial Club purchased 2000 machine guns for the Illinois National Guard to be used against strikers. Nevertheless, by May 1st, the movement had already won gains for many Chicago clothing cutters, shoemakers, and packing-house workers.
Nevertheless time has passed since then around the globe May first is still an international holiday. It is indeed one of the few things that unite the people of every city and country.