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<nettime> May Day and its heritage
Ronda Hauben on Tue, 2 May 2006 09:22:56 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> May Day and its heritage



                        U.S. Protesters Mark May Day
     International holiday has roots in struggle for shorter hours and
                        improved working conditions
                                         Ronda Hauben

   May Day -- an American Holiday

   May Day as the holiday celebrating the fight for shorter hours for
   workers began in the U.S. as part of the struggle for the eight-hour
   working day. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor of
   the U.S. and Canada proposed that an eight-hour workday come into
   effect on May 1, 1886. When that day came without the proposal being
   implemented, over 400,000 U.S. workers went on strike. Two days later
   on May 3, the strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago were
   attacked by police. The next day, on May 4 a rally was held in
   Haymarket Square in Chicago in protest. Suddenly a bomb exploded.
   Workers were rounded up and several anarchists were framed for the
   bomb. (1)

   Then in 1889, the Second International established May Day as the day
   to fight for shorter hours of work. In 1890, the American Federation
   of Labor (AFL) sent delegates to the Paris meeting of the
   International Labor Congress. The AFL delegates had proposed that May
   1 be proclaimed an international labor holiday. The proposal was
   accepted.

   The Fight in Great Britain for the 10-Hour Day

   Actually the tradition of May 1 as the day honoring shorter hours of
   labor goes back even further.(2) It was in May 1848 that the working
   class in Great Britain won the 10-hour working day, after almost 50
   years of struggle. On May 1, 1848, the first 10-hour bill became law
   in England. The factories had become places of great exploitation.
   Factory owners commonly hired children at low wages and put adult
   workers, especially men, out on the streets. The means to mechanize
   labor had created a hell for workers, rather than bringing a better
   life for the people of Great Britain.

   Faced with this factory hell, workers began to organize to improve
   their conditions. Robert Owen, a factory owner in New Lanark,
   Scotland, also recognized the problem with long hours and dangerous
   working conditions and supported the workers' efforts.
   By the early 1830s there was pressure on the British to conduct an
   inquiry into the conditions of work in the factories. Three years
   later, in 1833, a report was published documenting the abuses that the
   brave factory inspectors had discovered during their inquiry.
   A bill to limit the hours of labor to 10 hours a day was introduced
   into the British Parliament. Some factory owners set out to vigorously
   campaign against the bill, claiming that if it were passed, it would
   force them to shut their factories.

   The struggle of workers and factory owners like Robert Owen, who
   supported restrictions on the hours of labor and the ages of laborers
   in the factories, gained momentum. Their efforts were opposed by a
   segment of the factory owners who insisted that there should be no
   restriction on their activities.

   The 10 hours law finally passed on May 1, 1848, but opposition to it
   continued. It wasn't until May 1850 that the principle of government
   intervention into the conditions of workers in factories was
   established with the passage of a 10-1/2 hour law. This law, at last,
   included some enforcement provisions.

   May Day 2006 in the U.S.

   To honor May Day 2006, a number of demonstrations were planned in the
   U.S. by different groups. On the weekend before May 1, which in 2006
   falls on a Monday, there were demonstrations against the War in Iraq
   in various cities and towns in the U.S. A major demonstration was held
   in New York City. There were reports that 350,000 people were part of
   the protest. Among the signs carried by the demonstrators were:

     "Bush Lies, People Die"

     "Drop Bush, Not Bombs"

     "Halliburton thanks you for your taxes" (carried by Billionaires for
   Bush)

     "Justice for Gulf Coast Victims"

     "Make Levees, Not War"

     "Let Liars Lead No More"

     "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam"

     "Shut Down Guantanamo"

     "The World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime"

     "War kills, Try Peace"

     "One Nation Under Surveillance"

     "Where is your Truth to Power CBS, NBC" (and long list of media
   outlets)

     "We the People say No to the Bush Agenda."

   On Monday, May 1, demonstrations have been called in many cities
   around the U.S. to protest the efforts by the U.S. Congress to pass a
   bill that would criminalize aid to undocumented workers. In place of
   such a bill, there is the demand that undocumented workers have the
   right to become U.S. citizens and that there be full protection for
   them to have labor rights so that employers will no longer be able to
   exploit their undocumented status.

   This year in the U.S., May 1 is being celebrated. The tradition of May
   Day, as a day to fight for the rights of labor continues.

   Notes:
   (1) Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, "May 1st: The Sun of Tomorrow."
   (2) "The Tradition of May 1, 1848: Sir France Bacon and the Shorter
   Hours Bill", The Amateur Computerist, Winter/Spring, 1993, p. 1, 11-13
   (3) Thanks to Cordie Fuller for a list of some of the signs from the
   demonstration.






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