Origin and history of International Workers’ Day or May Day

Most of the world marks Labor Day on first of every May with rallies and parades. The origin of May Day can be traced to Chicago. Here, the Federation of Organized Trades & Labor Unions mounted a monumental general strike on May 1, 1886 under its leader Samuel Gompers. The strike was launched as part of its push for an eight-hour working day. During a related labor rally in Haymarket Square on May 4, a bomb was hurled, killing a policeman. The incident sparked off a deadly mêlée. As unfortunate fallout of the incident, four radical labor leaders were hanged on dubious charges.

Samuel Gompers’s union reorganized itself in 1888 as the American Federation of Labor. The union again pushed for the eight-hour day. He laid plans for a strike to start on May 1, 1890 – the fourth anniversary of the walkout, which had led to the Haymarket affair. Meanwhile, a group of labor leaders in Paris assembled for establishment of the Second International. The executed Chicago radicals were revered martyrs to them. In an act of solidarity, the Second International decided on May 1, 1890, as a day of protest.

After the first May Day was deemed a huge success, the Second International decided to mark it as an annual event. May Day since then has become an international celebration of the economic and social achievements of the labor class. May Day or International Workers’ Day parades act as a platform and opportunity to show unity and strength of the working class.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) serves is the body devoted to advancing opportunities for people world over to get decent and productive work in conditions of equity, security and freedom. Its major aims are to promote rights at work, enhance social protection, strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues and encourage decent employment opportunities.

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