Today is May Day, the day that honors the struggle of working people throughout the world. From France to Japan, China to Nicaragua, workers are celebrating with strikes, rallies, marches and teach-ins. But the United States and Canada don’t recognize the day as a national holiday.
Ironically, it is in the United States that May Day, a pagan holy day celebrating the first spring planting, was first declared International Workers’ Day. It came out of the movement for an 8-hour workday that rocked the country more than 100 years ago. On May 1, 1886, the American Federation of Labor called a national strike to put an end to the 12, 14, and even 16 hour days that were common. Two days into the massive strike, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Chicago, killing four. The following day, a bomb was thrown at police officers as they descended on peaceful protesters in Haymarket Square. The bomb killed one police officer and injured many more. The police fired into the crowd, killing at least one and wounding dozens.
Although it was never known who threw the bomb in Haymarket Square, the incident was used as an excuse to attack the Left and labor movement. Eight of Chicago’s most active labor leaders were sentenced to death by a kangaroo court, and four of them were ultimately hanged.
News of these executions sparked labor protests throughout the world, and in 1889, the Socialist International declared May 1st a day of demonstrations.
In cities across the world, activists celebrate International Workers’ Day by combining it with protests against racism, militarism, and capitalism. In central Athens, where thousands of demonstrators gathered today, banners read: “Long live international solidarity to Palestine.” In Australia, police arrested dozens of people after scuffles broke out at a picket to protest against the country’s immigration policies. Today in Berlin, thousands gathered at a peaceful May Day and anti-Nazi demonstration. Violence broke out when hundreds of riot police moved in, using water cannons against protesters.
We are going to go now to three May Day demonstrations. In Paris, May Day is a national workers’ holiday, and hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest far-right presidential contender Jean-Marie Le Pen. This Sunday is the runoff election against President Jacques Chirac.
- Nick Champaix, reporter for Radio France International, on the streets of Paris for the pro-Le Pen demonstrations.
In London, hundreds of cyclists converged on the U.S. embassy, 6,000 police are on guard in the city and many businesses have boarded up their windows. The statue of Winston Churchill outside the Houses of Parliament has been boarded up to protect it from the fate that befell it two years ago, when protesters covered it in graffiti and put a grass mohican on its head.
- Roger Sutton, organizer of the London May Day March.
In New York, workers will march to demand a general amnesty for all undocumented immigrants. They march in the footsteps of the immigrant workers who struggled for the 8-hour day in 1886.
- Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU Local 32-BJ (SEIU is the Service Employees International Union. Hector leads 32-BJs Education, Political, and Community Action Programs.
- Baldemar Velasquez, founder and current president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Velasquez, began working in farm fields at an early age, gained national attention in 1967 when he organized farm labor in northwest Ohio where many jobs had previously been unpaid. In 1979, FLOC was formally recognized as a labor union of farm workers in the Midwest.