by The Editors, April 10, 2021
May Day, May 1, a day celebrated by workers around the world for 130 years. What many don’t know is that it all began right here in the US, in Chicago, in 1886. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) passed a resolution in 1884 to decrease the 10-16 hour workday to 8 hours. By May 1, 1886, over a quarter of a million workers became involved in this campaign, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialist Labor Party and the Knights of Labor. Much of the leadership of these organizations was made up of socialists and anarchists, so there was also a consciousness of the evils of capitalism and the limits of the 8 hour demand.
The Chicago Central Labor Council called for a general strike on the May 1st deadline, and over 300,000 workers took part. In that city, 40,000 workers went out on strike, and their numbers grew to near 100,000 over the next few days. There was no violence until May 3, when several strikers were killed as the police responded to rock throwing with gunfire at the McCormick Reaper works.
The next day thousands protested at Haymarket Square. A police agent threw a bomb and at least 38 workers and seven cops were killed and 200 workers were wounded. Eight anarchists were framed for the violence, though only three had even been present at Haymarket. Four were hung. As August Spies was about to be executed, he said “There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!” The surviving prisoners were released 6 years later after mass protests forced the government to admit the frame-up.
At the July, 1889 Paris meeting of the International Workers Association, led by Karl Marx, the members were inspired to organize an international demonstration for the shorter workday and it was adopted as the official international workers’ day in 1891. In China, May Day has been a major holiday since the 1920s and in the USSR since the Bolshevik Revolution. May Day is now celebrated by millions in many nations of the world, although in most it has been stripped of its revolutionary content and made an official government holiday.
Needless to say, from the outset the US capitalist class was opposed to any massive show of working class solidarity against the bosses’ interests. Thus they did a slick turnaround in 1894, declaring Labor Day in early September to be a holiday, supposedly in solidarity with the recently fought Pullman porters’ strike, but to be celebrated by both workers and employers. May 1 was changed to Law and Order Day and even to Loyalty day in 1958 during the Cold War against communism.
In the US, the Communist Party led massive May Day marches during the first half of the 20th century, including one of 250,000 in New York City in 1947. The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) re-instituted an openly revolutionary communist May Day in 1971 and has led marches in the US since then and participated in many May Day marches around the world. In the last few years, pro-immigrant actions have also been held in US cities on May 1, but without revolutionary content.
Marching for workers’ power on May Day is just one aspect of the attempt to build an international movement that is anti-capitalist and not only a fight for reforms. As climate change worsens and imperialist rivalry between the US and China accelerates, the world’s workers face loss of their lives, not just wages or standard of living. Electing new politicians won’t do it. The system must be changed.
Join in a May Day march or virtual celebration this May 1 and become part of the ongoing revolutionary struggle. There is a great history behind you and international solidarity around you.
Issues to be raised at the PLP marches this year will be
- Racist health care and highly disparate Covid infections and death
- Vaccine apartheid, in the US and worldwide
- Racist police killings
- Police out of schools
- Unemployment and Evictions
- Abuse of prisoners, citizen and immigrant
- Mass deportations
- End imperialist war
- Fight climate change
- Overthrow capitalism with multiracial working class unity
DC March: Meet on May 1, 2pm, at Malcolm X Park by the Joan of Arc statue. Rally til 3pm when we will march to the White House and rally there til 4p. Wear a mask of course and bring signs.
See the fliers for NYC (below) and Washington, DC events. We will add more as we learn about them.