Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mayday! Mayday!

It's truly beautiful now - on my 6am walk to work the forsythias are blooming, both the star magnolias and

the cup and saucer magnolias are in bloom, as  daffodils, jonquils, and tulips perfume the paths I trudge; delicate birdsong twitter tweets are joined by the less prosaic musings of geese wafting thru the air. Trees have light green cotton candy tufts swaying ever so lightly in the morning breeze. Spring is here.

It's May the first. In much of the world, its a day given to celebrations to honor workers and men who were framed and killed in Chicago for trying to unionize to demand a 40 hour work week. And it's Beltane, the new season of growth, the veil is thin, magic can...... WAIT. WHAT? men killed in Chicago?

See, May 1st, 1886 had been set as a day for a general strike and protests all across the U.S. in favor of a 40 hour work week. The average work week at the time was 60 hours, while many worked 12 to 15 hours a day, 6 days a week. Child Labor was common. Thousand upon thousand marched. The bosses tended to feign surprise at the numbers of workers who gathered. In Chicago, 80,000 took part in the main protest.  On May 3rd, as one rally ended, hundreds went to Haymarket Square to protest the strike breaking "scab" workers who had been brought in at the McCormick plant. The police were brought in, they opened fire on the crowd of workers. Some say four were killed. Others reported hundreds. A rally was held the next day to protest the violence. Someone threw a bomb. The police said it was the workers. The workers said it was thrown by a Pinkerton paid tough. It exploded, sending shrapnel into the crowd of workers. The police backed up, aimed their weapons and opened fire - according newspaper accounts for a full two minutes and more. The number of dead workers was not mentioned in the press.

Eight men, labor leaders and organizers of the May 1st march and subsequent protests were rounded up on false charges, and put on trial for being anarchists who incited the mob to violence. They were condemned to die by hanging. One man killed himself first. Five men were hung. The world took note. May 1st, Labor Day was born. But not in the United States. Here, after the murder of workers of the Pullman Union, President Grover Cleveland, to pacify workers and get their votes, created and set Labor Day at the beginning of September. He did not want to place the day in aassociation with May 1st, International Labor Day, so that no one could stir unrest in memory of the Haymarket martyrs.

As the trials and executions ended, a new labor organization was started, the AFL or American Federation of Labor. In the early 1914, Henry Ford gave his workers a 5 day/40 hour workweek. The eight-hour day was realized for many more workers in the U.S. in 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act (under the New Deal) made it a legal day's work throughout the nation.

May Day, Los Angeles 1933

1 comment:

Austan said...

RIP Haymarket Martyrs. We won't forget.