There was a push in the United States to have May 1 become our Labor Day. It did not happen but instead was pushed over to September. In 1885 at a convention of the American Federation of Labor a resolution passed calling for adoption of the eight-hour day effective May 1, 1886. The slogan that told what the workingmen throughout the country sought at the time was “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.”
That May 1 in Chicago a group including anarchists led a huge parade demanding the eight hour day. Workers walked out. After May 1, there was still great agitation among the workers that continued over onto the 2nd and the 3rd. On the latter date there was a conflict at a factory that remained opened with the working folk demanding the eight hour day breaking the windows of the factory and the police were called out resulting in a little todo.
This fracas caused the anarchists to call for a big rally on the night of the 4th in Haymarket Square. There speakers took turns demanding the eight-hour day and condemning police actions taken against them. The police marched in to break up the meeting. A bomb was thrown into the middle of the police killing seven police officers, wounding over fifty others along with many civilians. The windy city was in an uproar.
Eight prominent anarchists or socialists were brought to trial for the murders even though some were not present at the time of explosion. One committed suicide and four were hanged. One as his last words stated: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.” They were all buried at the German Waldheim Cemetery where a Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument, shown above, was erected over their graves.
This became a cause célèbre throughout the world similar to what would happen years later with Sacco and Vanzetti. In 1889 the Marxists Internationalist Socialist Congress, the Second International, adopted the May 1 date as the day on which all workers should have a holiday.
There was a great fear in the United States that were it to be on May 1 it would be looked upon as having a connection with the Haymarket riot. Democratic President Grover Cleveland who had used U.S. troops against striking workmen held that same fear and believed using May 1 “would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe. In 1887, he publicly supported the September Labor Day holiday as a less inflammatory alternative, formally adopting the date as a United States federal holiday through a law that he signed in 1894.
While most workers in the world celebrated May 1 we ended up with the September date. In the United States some groups would still have marches and get togethers on May 1 which made others leery and caused J. Edgar Hoover sleepless nights. Fearing a vacuum which would give prominence to the view that it was the true Labor Day, the United States at one time called May 1 “Loyalty Day” and then later gave it the name “Law Day.”
That fear still persists to this date but not so much because of the holiday but due mainly to ignorance. Many bandy about the word socialist in talking about the Democratic Party without the vaguest idea what the word meant to those who participated back in the late 1800s with socialist movements. It is that empty headed thinking where labels without thought are thrown out that is detrimental to our nation.
Just like we cannot pretend by giving it a different name that May 1 is not International Workers Day; so we cannot pretend that programs that help the least among us are the type advocated by true socialists and anarchists.