Adonis Diaries

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A short history of Workers’ Day: May 1

The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the 8-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day.

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The day of this celebration was to be April 21.

At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

In fact, what could give the workers greater courage and faith in their own strength than a mass work stoppage which they had decided themselves?

What could give more courage to the eternal slaves of the factories and the workshops than the mustering of their own troops?

Thus, the idea of a proletarian celebration was quickly accepted and, from Australia, began to spread to other countries until finally it had conquered the whole proletarian world.

The first to follow the example of the Australian workers were the Americans.

In 1886 they decided that May 1 should be the day of universal work stoppage. On this day two hundred thousand of them left their work and demanded the eight-hour day. Later, police and legal harassment prevented the workers for many years from repeating this [size of] demonstration.

However in 1888 they renewed their decision and decided that the next celebration would be May 1, 1890.

In the meanwhile, the workers’ movement in Europe had grown strong and animated.

The most powerful expression of this movement occurred at the International Workers’ Congress in 1889. At this congress, attended by four hundred delegates, it was decided that the eight-hour day must be the first demand.

Whereupon the delegate of the French unions, the worker Lavigne from Bordeaux, moved that this demand be expressed in all countries through a universal work stoppage. The delegate of the American workers called attention to the decision of his comrades to strike on May 1, 1890, and the congress decided on this date for the universal proletarian celebration.

In this case, as thirty years before in Australia, the workers really thought only of a one-time demonstration. The congress decided that the workers of all lands would demonstrate together for the eight-hour day on May 1, 1890. No one spoke of a repetition of the holiday for the next years.

Naturally no one could predict the lightning-like way in which this idea would succeed and how quickly it would be adopted by the working classes.

However, it was enough to celebrate the May Day simply one time in order that everyone understand and feel that May Day must be a yearly and continuing institution.

The first of May demanded the introduction of the eight-hour day. But even after this goal was reached, May Day was not given up. As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands.

And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past.

 Demonstrators Demand Immigration Reform Across The United States

The protests have become routine annual occurrences, highlighting the degree to which Latinos have driven a resurgence of the International Workers’ Day, which is not officially recognized as a holiday in the United States.

Though the U.S. government shuns May Day in favor of Labor Day in September, the holiday originated to commemorate an event in U.S. history.

In 1889, the Second International designated May 1 to mark the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair, a violent clash between cops and protesting workers that occurred three years before.

But immigrants from Latin America, where most countries celebrate May Day, have reframed the holiday in recent years.

A massive immigration protest and boycott in 2006 drew hundreds of thousands into the streets, according to CNN.

Congress is currently considering a bipartisan immigration proposal that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented and pour billions more dollars into border security efforts.

Latin American countries also marked the workers’ holiday with marches, though often of a more contentious nature. Supporters and opponents of Venezuela’s new President Nicolás Maduro held demonstrations in Caracas, confrontations between Colombian protesters and police led to 90 arrests in Bogotá, and a new class of entrepreneurs tried to make a buck off of throngs of demonstrators in Havana.

See what May Day protests looked like across the United States and in Latin America in the slideshow above.




October 2021

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