What comes to mind when you think of May Day? Baskets left on your front door? Candy? Flowers?
How about workers striking for labor rights? Unless you are from outside of the United States and Canada, the latter association is one with which you may not be familiar. Nearly everywhere in the world but the U.S., May 1 is International Workers’ Day or Labor Day — yet, this celebration of workers’ rights is based on an event that occurred on American soil. On May 3, 1886, in Chicago, striking workers from the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company gathered for a rally demanding an eight-hour work day. When the working day ended, a group of strikers non-violently confronted strikebreakers leaving the plant — and police fired on the crowd, killing two workers. The next day, May 4, a non-violent rally was called in front of the plant, located at Haymarket Square, to protest police violence. The rally occurred without much incident, until about 10:30 p.m., when the crowd was commanded to disperse by police, who began advancing on the speakers. An unknown person threw a pipe bomb into the crowd, and the police proceeded to open fire. In all, eight police officers and four workers were killed in the incident. Eight labor leaders were tried in connection with the bomb throwing — seven of them convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, in what has been characterized as a miscarriage of justice due to the spurious evidence against the defendants. Led by the American Federation of Labor, international workers called for a day of solidarity with workers in the fight for the eight-hour work day. May 1, 1890, was declared the date of the first International Workers’ Day, partly as a memorial to the Haymarket martyrs who died for workers’ rights, and has stood as a day of recognition for most of the world ever since. Due to the work of an alliance between politicians and conservative labor unions, the U.S. recognizes laborers in September, making a conscious decision to disassociate Labor Day from its radical beginnings. But May Day would not die. In 2006, May 1 was selected by immigrant rights’ groups in the U.S. for the Great American Boycott, a general strike by immigrant workers to protest immigration reform legislation. Also called “A Day Without an Immigrant,” the day was intended to highlight America’s dependency on immigrant workers. Millions of people across the country participated in marches, rallies and demonstrations.
The spirit of May Day continues in Iowa City as a day to honor those who have made great sacrifices both to ensure that many of us only have to work eight hours a day, five days a week, and to fight for those whose labor is still exploited.
We of the May Day Organizing Committee call upon the community to participate in this year’s May Day celebration. The event will be from noon to 9 p.m. Friday on the pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City.
The laborer-and-immigrant rights centered festival will feature speakers including author Gene Bauer and other speakers during the noon hour. From 3 to 5 p.m. there will be labor and immigration-themed workshops, information tables of local social justice groups, a pie-eating contest, and the beginning of children’s activities. After 5 p.m. there will be speakers and music by local artists, including Liberty Leg and Matt Grimm and the Red Smear. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.