Labor Day (aka International Worker’s Day) is celebrated on May 1 in countries around the world, and it is often a day for protests and rallies by Labour Unions.
This originates with the United States labor movement in the late 19th Century. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places.
Demands for an eight-hour working day was becaming increasingly widespread among American laborers.
Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism, calling for the rights of the workers, offered an attractive option.
A demonstration, largely staged by a small group of workers, caused a crowd of some 1,500 people to gather at Haymarket Square. When policemen attempted to disperse the meeting, a bomb exploded and the police opened fire on the crowd. Seven policemen and four other persons were killed, and more than 100 persons were wounded.
Eight protestors were tried, but no evidence was produced that they had made or thrown the bomb. They were, however, convicted of inciting violence, although no evidence was presented that they knew the bomber, who was never discovered.
Known as the HAYMARKET TRAGEDY, it became the marker of the origin of protests on Labour Day.
The following video narrates the events of Haymarket Tragedy.
World Workers, whatever may bind ye,
This day let your work be undone:
Cast the clouds of the winter behind ye,
And come forth and be glad in the sun.
Now again while the green earth rejoices
In the bud and the blossom of May
Lift your hearts up again, and your voices,
And keep merry the World’s Labour Day.
Let the winds lift your banners from far lands
With a message of strife and of hope:
Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands
That gathers your cause in its scope.
It is writ on each ribbon that flies
That flutters from fair Freedom’s heart:
If still far be the crown and the prize
In its winning may each take a part.
Your cause is the hope of the world,
In your strife is the life of the race,
The workers’ flag Freedom unfurled
Is the veil of the bright future’s face.
Be ye many or few drawn together,
Let your message be clear on this day;
Be ye birds of the spring, of one feather
In this–that ye sing on May-Day.
Of the new life that still lieth hidden,
Though its shadow is cast before;
The new birth of hope that unbidden
Surely comes, as the sea to the shore.
Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,
Together pull, strong and united:
Link your hands like a chain the world round,
If you will that your hopes be requited.
When the World’s Workers, sisters and brothers,
Shall build, in the new coming years,
A lair house of life–not for others,
For the earth and its fulness is theirs.
~ Walter Crane
Written April 13, 1894 for The Workers Maypole