1st May is observed as May Day or International Workers’ Day. However, a majority of Americans have very little knowledge of what it actually stands for and what’s the history behind it. Many assume that this day is celebrated only in communist countries, such as Cuba or the erstwhile Soviet Union. It is hardly a known fact that May Day first originated in the United States and is integral to America, just like apple pie and baseball. History holds a lot of facts that remain to be unveiled. Either people have shown very little interest in unearthing the truth or have been misled to a certain extent. Here are some amazing facts that you, as an American, probably never knew about May Day.
Literary Works Upheld Labor And Workplace Issues
Before the arrival of the 20th century, the working class was struggling with the improvement of working conditions. They were made to work for 10 to 16 hours a day, which was kind of unethical. Unsafe working conditions led to several deaths and injuries in those days. The fateful incidents inspired authors, like Upton Sinclair and Jack London to pen down The Jungle and The Iron Heel respectively. In the 1960s, the workers started an agitation, demanding a decrease in the work hours without a pay cut. However, that took some time to gather steam. Towards the late 80s, the working class, now more organized and powerful, declared the policy of 8-hour workdays. Of course, influential labor leaders such as Harry Bridges were highly inspired by these literary works.
Workers Embraced Socialist Ideologies
This was the period when socialism caught the attention of the workers. It was a new and appealing ideology that talked about the control of the working class over the production process, as well as the distribution of goods and services. The workers were even more attracted to socialism as they believed that the ideology of capitalism only existed to benefit the employers, the very people who put the workers’ lives in danger for their own profit. Reports revealed that thousands of innocent lives were lost at the workplace. In some industries, life expectancy was not more than the early twenties. Socialism gave them hope and they were determined to hold on to it.
It Also Gave Rise To Anarchism
The late 19th century witnessed the rise of several socialist groups. Be it political parties or choir groups, socialism made its presence felt throughout. Various constituencies elected and sent socialists to the governmental office. However, the political system was still controlled by the businessmen and therefore, the purpose of the socialists was not served as expected. As a result, several of them quit the political parties and rejected the political system, viewed by them as a source of protection for the wealthy class. As time went by, anarchist groups were created across the country. Thousands among the working class took a liking towards anarchism and embraced the ideals that aimed to demolish the hierarchical structures and push for the worker-controlled industry. It was never like the labor unions were being taken over and controlled by socialists and anarchists. Instead, it would be apt to say that they were at the core of the labor unions.
Workers’ Unrest Culminated In The Chicago Haymarket Affair
In the year 1884, the national convention of FOTLU, Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions was held in Chicago. It was proclaimed at the convention that total hours of labor should not be more than eight a day, with effect from 1st May 1886. FOTLU was later renamed the American Federation of Labor. Later on, Samuel Fielden claimed in The Alarm, the anarchist mouthpiece, that a man remains a slave irrespective of whether he works for eight hours or ten hours in a day. The Haymarket massacre was one of those events in history that saw bloodshed of people who sacrificed their lives so that people could have a working day of eight hours while attending a peaceful rally.
This massacre is considered to have been a significant factor behind the declaration of 1st May as May Day or International Workers’ Day. The Chicago Haymarket Affair has indeed influenced the history of labor big time. With that being said, few know the importance of that rally and the role it played.