International Workers Day on May 1 celebrates the organized labor movement. It’s a popular day to protest for workers’ and civil rights, which is something that both Latin Americans and Latin Europeans seem to enjoy.
It’s not a big deal in the United States, but is in the Latin world. Owners don’t like it because they don’t want to be unionized, but workers see it as their own holiday.
May Day is an Ancient European Spring Holiday
May Day once marked the end of winter and the start of summer. It was a feast day in many old European traditions.
Agricultural economies are more tuned to the rhythms of nature. In a way, May Day marked the transition from the calmer work of winter to the more intense work of the summer planting season.
International Workers Day
In the U.S., May Day got associated with organized labor movements (unions) during the era of sweat shops with incredibly long working hours.
In Chicago on May 4, 1886 a strike and rally for the eight-hour work day, turned into a riot with several deaths after someone threw dynamite as police began to break up the rally. At least 11 people were killed and many were wounded. It was such a mess that it’s hard to know who was responsible.
American labor organizers chose to commemorate the Chicago Haymarket Riot on May 1 and international labor organizers adopted the date for an international commemoration in 1890. That’s how May 1 got associated with the labor movement.
Perhaps to avoid association with the Haymarket Affair, the United States moved its Labor Day holiday to the first Monday in September in 1894.
During the rise of communist experiments in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, International Workers Day got associated with that. It’s an unfair association now. It’s one of those “monster under the bed” cries that gets everyone roused up.
Despite its roots in protest, most workers see this as a day that honors them. International Workers Day remains a public holiday in much of the Latin world. In New York City, many Latin consulates are closed on this day.
The Reason for the Day
Workers Day got going during the period of some of the worst worker exploitation of the Industrial Revolution.
There is a lot of social inequity in the world, and it’s getting worse. Something is wrong when owners make gazillions, while their workers have to work multiple jobs just to survive.
Interestingly we once read a NASA study on what makes civilizations fall. The conclusion was that environmental destruction and social inequity where the two major causes. We wondered why NASA would produce such a study, but always remembered it. Both problems are growing now.
Sometimes protest becomes necessary, but not for its own sake. We need to find ways to work together.