1886 International Workers (Labour) Day

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International Workers’ Day is a celebration of labour and the working classes that is promoted by international labour movement and that occurs on May 1 every year. That day, May 1, is also the traditional European Spring holiday of May Day. Therefore, May 1 is a national public holiday in more than 80 countries, but in only some of those countries is the public holiday officially known as Labor Day or some similar variant. In the other countries, the public holiday marks the Spring festival of May Day.

May 1 was chosen by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International as the date to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 1, 1886 .The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. The evidence was that one of the defendants may have built the bomb, but none of those on trial had thrown it. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants were commuted by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby to terms of life in prison, and another committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.

The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated there in 2004. In addition, the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument at the defendants’ burial site in nearby Forest Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

“No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair. It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance,” according to labor studies Professor William J. Adelman.

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