What Happened On May Day?


On the 1st of May every year workers around the world commemorate May Day which is also called Labour Day. The history of the day is one that details very well the antagonism of class struggle as well as the cruelty of the bourgeoisie. In 1886 on the 4th of May Haymarket Square in Chicago witnessed a march by workers. The workers were fighting for the right to an 8 hour working day. Some 1500 workers were present at the Haymarket Square but the bad weather conditions drastically reduced the number of workers on site.

About 200 police officers were on duty responding to the protest. It was the last 300 radical worker activists which were met by the police. An unidentified person in the crowd threw a bomb at the police who then responded with wild gunfire. A number of people, about a 100, were injured and a further 8 were confirmed dead.

31 radical workers were rounded up by the police and 8 of them were arrested, although no evidence against them was ever found. Judge Gary sentenced them to the death penalty. Samuel Fielden; Adolph Fischer; August Spies and Albert Parson were executed on 11 November 1887. One was sentenced to 15 years while the rest had their death penalty sentences commuted to life imprisonment. They were released in 1893 after Governor John Altgeld was pressurised the public questioning the guilt of the convicted.

Today the event, along with the working class martyrs, is remembered by millions of workers across the world, although the day has been shifted to May 1st. We briefly look at May Day accounts in a few countries around the world.

This year South African workers represented by union federations such as the Congress of the South African Unions (COSATU) and the South African Federation of Unions (SAFTU), had rallies in different places. The attendance was rather small which reflects the dire state of trade union movement in South Africa. Perhaps even the current weakness of the working class in general. Workers in Nairobi, Kenya came out in their thousands.

About 1,200 people in France wearing black jackets and face masks shouted slogans such as “Rise up, Paris” and “Everyone hates the police.” The demonstrators were opposing French President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms in the public sector. Close to 300 demonstrators were arrested by French police who expressed concerns about extremist groups using the demonstrations to start new clashes. The march which was attended by at least 20 000 peaceful marchers was marred by scenes of looting and destruction to property.

Turkey being a country of routine clashes between workers or other demonstrators and the police, saw key areas in the capital – Istanbul, closed off clearly in a move anticipating May Day demonstrations. Protesters moved to defy the ban by occupying Taksim Square. 84 were arrested by the police who were supported by helicopters, armoured cars and water cannon vehicles. However, thousands of workers took part in officially sanctioned May Day commemorative events held in the Maltepe district of Istanbul.

Working class radicals, always creative, always find ways to express their ideas and feelings about the society they live in. It was the case in the Philippines where protesters used a demon as a symbol for President Rodrigo Durtete. This was set alight near the presidential palace, Thousands of workers marched in Manila to express their anger at the president’s failure to end short employment contracts.
Indian activists from the Communist Party of India along with factory workers, listen to a speaker during a protest against alleged anti-workers policies imposed by the state and central governments on the occasion of International Labour Day, in Amritsar, India.
Many other protests, demonstrations and strikes throughout the world saw May Day 2018 an eventful day for workers of the world.

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