While many of us simply associate May 1st with the other public holidays, just how many of us are aware of the day’s painful origins?
Known as ‘Labour Day’ here in Singapore, the International Workers’ Day is a celebration of the international labour movement and also the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, Illinois.
On Saturday, 1886 May 1st, peaceful rallies were held throughout the United States for an 8-hour workday instead of the regular 10 to 12 hours workday workers then had. Subsequently, on May 3rd, radical labour activist August Spies spoke to a rally outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant where the striking workers in Chicago met. Spies then advised them to “hold together, to stand by their union, or they would not succeed.”
The strikes to this point were largely non-violent. But on May 3rd, gunfire erupted as police had fired on the crowd. Outraged by this act of police violence, local anarchists quickly called for a rally the following day at the Haymarket Square which, unfortunately, did not end as peacefully as it started – no thanks to a bomb which sparked off a massive gunfire that killed and injured several people.
The Haymarket Massacre, along with several other labour movements that followed, led to the success of making May Day an official holiday.
So, (as clichéd as this may sound) enjoy the fruits of the labour of your forefathers as well as that of yours this May 1st and have a Happy Labour Day!