While May Day has early European pagan beginnings, it is the 1886 Haymarket Riot that really got it going here in the US.
Like the latter 1968 police riot, this too had its roots in over zealous police and a government bent on suppressing dissent.
In 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions set the goal of an 8 hour workday to be implemented by May 1, 1886. When that day arrived there were rallies across the nation, 10000 in New York, another 10000 in Milwaukee, 11000 in Detroit, 80000 in Chicago…One hundred and thirty odd years before the tea baggers, up to half a million rallied around the nation. In Chicago a general strike was called to aid the workers locked out of the local McCormick Harvesting Machine Company plant. On May 3, police and pinkertons fired on the crowd killing-accounts of the time say-between 2 and 6 workers. The following day workers rallied in Haymarket Square.
As the rally wound down, someone threw a pipe bomb killing a police. The police opened fire on the crowd, some in the crowd were armed and fired back. Eight police and four workers died, sixty police were injured (mostly by friendly fire) and an untold number of workers were injured.
Eight anarchists were rounded up and put on trial–the trial never linked them to the bombing, but convicted them simply for being anarchists. All eight were found guilty and seven were sentenced to death. Two of the seven had their sentences reduced on appeal. The night before the planned execution Louis Ling killed himself, leaving four for the state to hang: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel.
Never were any of the eight connected to the bomb, they were selected only to set back the labor union.
Today as we leave work after our 8 hours, we should pay a special tribute for the 8 martrys who helped us win it and we should look forward to the 6 hour day and the 4 day workweek and our cry must be FULL EMPLOYMENT NOW.
Besides remembering these 8 and the sacrifices they made for us, we should also take time to get down on bended knee and smell the flowers…happy May Day.