CAIRO – 1 May 2022: The world celebrates May 1 of every year as International Workers' Day.
In some other countries, this special occasion is called Labor Day, Spring and Labor Day, and International Day of Solidarity with the Working Class. It is a holiday in many countries.
Some may wonder what turned this day into an occasion celebrated by the world annually.
Labor Day was established in the 19th century in Australia on April 21, 1856. Prior to that date, and with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, industrial production in large factories turned the lives of workers to hell. The working day was 10-16 hours long, and the work week was 6 days a week. The use of children was common, without any considerations for industrial or health securit, or the spread of pests and epidemics among workers, especially children.
This led to the emergence of the "8 Hours a Day" movement, one of the social movements that aimed to regulate the working day and prevent abuses and violations. One of the founders of "utopian socialism", Robert Owen (1771-1858) was the first to call for this. He coined the slogan: "8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of leisure."
Women and children in England were given an advantage of 10 hours a day in 1847. In France, French workers got 12 hours a day after the February Revolution of 1848.
The International Workers' Association addressed workers' demands for an 8-hour workday in 1866, declaring that the legal limit on the working day is a preliminary condition, and without it all attempts to improve and emancipate the conditions of the working class will fail. Karl Marx, in his book “Capital”, also saw it as being of vital importance to the health of workers.
In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trade Unions and Trade Unions of Chicago, USA, decided in its agreement that 8 working hours constitute a legal working day from May 1, 1886 onward, recommending that all labor organizations throughout the jurisdiction to direct laws consistent with this decision. On May 1, 1886, the Knights of Labor Federation, led by Terence V. Powderly, rejected the call to join the strike movement, but many local leaders and Knights of Labor associations joined the strike call in Chicago, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
Albert Parsons (1848-1887), president of the Knights of Labor in Chicago, his wife Lucy Parsons and their two children led a demonstration of 80,000 people on Michigan Avenue, Chicago. In the next few days, 350,000-400,000 workers joined them in all parts of the country, demanding to limit working hours and get all their dues, under the slogan "8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of leisure."
On May 3, 1886, the editor of the Workers' Newspaper and a radical labor activist, Auguste Spies (1855-1887), spoke at a meeting to 6,000 workers. Many of them then moved to the street to attack some of the intruders who tried to break the strike. The police arrived and opened fire, killing 4 people and wounding many others.
At a later rally on May 4, in protest of this violence, a bomb (thrown by unknown persons) exploded in Haymarket Square, killing eight policemen and wounding 77 others. The police immediately attacked the crowd, killing a number of people and seriously injuring more than 200. Several people were arrested for allegedly causing the violence. Five of them, including Spies and Parsons, were sentenced to death, only to be found innocent.
At a meeting of the American Federation of Labor in St. Louis in December 1888, the union decided that May 1, 1890, should be the day American workers should work no more than 8 hours. Additionally, the International Workers' Association [Second International], which met in Paris in 1889, declared May 1 a day to launch demonstrations, and from here the tradition of Labor Day began.
Despite this, the struggle of the labor movement in the United States did not stop, and it reached its climax in 1894, when the American army killed a number of protesting workers. It is what put great pressure on US President at the time Grover Cleveland, and prompted him to reconcile with the Labor Party, legislating Labor Day, and declaring it an official holiday in the country, in memory of Auguste Spies and his companions.
Such a day in normal circumstances, before the Corona pandemic, witnesses popular marches and festivals in various Russian cities, bearing slogans praising the role of workers, demanding they get their rights as well as their full wages. These massive events are usually organized by trade unions. The main political parties are also involved in these activities.
Labor Day is celebrated by approximately 130 countries, and in most countries it is considered an official holiday.