By Néstor Alí Gómez
Every year on May 1st is the International Workers’ Day, a day of reflection and tribute to the group of trade unionists who lost their lives in the mobilizations of 1886 in favor of the reduction of working hours.
Initially, this date was taken as the ideal opportunity to reflect on the working conditions of salaried workers and to remember those who lost their lives fighting for this cause. Over the years, and from the Second International Workers Congress held in Paris in 1889, the date began to be used to make labor and social demands for the working class. Since then, May Day can be considered a day of reflection but also of action.
Each country has its particular form of celebration, but usually on May 1st is considered a non-working holiday which workers can use to rest or join the marches and demonstrations to demand better working conditions that develop as throughout the world.
Brief History of Labor Day
The website www.significados.com explains that the “Martyrs of Chicago incident was the origin of the commemoration on May 1st. They were union leaders of an anarchist tendency who mobilized the workers to demand the reduction of the working day to eight hours.”
The consulted source states that in the United States, in those years, working hours could be extended to 18 continuous hours, since the company or employer was fined only when they passed that limit without just cause. However; the workers considered that this was unfair, and asked for the reduction to an eight-hour day where the employees could use the rest of their time for rest (eight hours) and for family, chores and leisure (eight hours).
Thus, in 1886, the workers threatened to start a strike if the employers did not agree to the request. The strike began on May 1. In Chicago, one of the cities with the highest workforce in the country and where working conditions were precarious, the strike lasted for several days and there were clashes between police and demonstrators resulting in several deaths and dozens of injuries.
In Haymarket Square in Chicago, on May 4th, tension reached a peak. An explosive device went off which led to dozens of injuries and arrests. Among those arrested, eight were found guilty, and of these, five went to prison and three were sentenced to death.
They were baptized as the martyrs of Chicago, for their sacrifice in the struggle for the demands of the labor movement and May 1st is dedicated to them.
Finally, the employer sectors were able to agree to implement the eight-hour workday, which continues today in much of the western world.