The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.
May Day is designated International Workers Day. It is indeed a thoroughly international holiday; and the United States is one of the few countries in the world where pressure from local working classes has not led to an official holiday. In the 20th century, the holiday received the official endorsement of the Soviet Union; celebrations in communist countries during the Cold War era often consisted of large military parades and shows of common people in support of the government.
The Haymarket Martyrs
The story of the Haymarket Martyrs, and their monument in Forest Home Cemetery, begins at a convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1884. The Federation (the predecessor to the American Federation of Labor) called for a great movement to win the 8-hour workday, which would climax on May 1, 1886.
The plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard 8-hour day, instead of the 10 to 12, even up to 16-hour days that were prevalent. After May 1 of 1886, all workers not yet on an 8-hour schedule, were to cease work in a nation-wide strike until their employer would meet the demand.
Although some employers did meet the deadline, many did not. Accordingly, great demonstrations took place on May 1 all across the country. Chicago's was the biggest with an estimated 80,000 marching on Michigan Avenue, much to the alarm of Chicago's business leaders and newspapers who saw it as foreshadowing "revolution," and demanded a police crackdown.
In fact, the Anarchists and other political radicals in Chicago were reluctant to have anything to do with the 8-hour day strike, which they saw as "reformist;" but they were prevailed upon by the unionists to participate because Albert Parsons and others were such powerful orators and had a substantial following.
A mass meeting was called for the night of May 4, 1886 in the city haymarket at Randolph St. and DesPlaines Ave. Its purpose was to protest a police action from the previous day in which strikers and their supporters at the McCormick Reaper plant on Blue Island Ave. had been killed and injured by police.
The mass meeting in the haymarket was so poorly planned that the organizers had to round up speakers, including Parsons, at the spur of the moment. A rain began to fall, and as the last speaker was concluding, a large force of 200 police arrived with a demand that the meeting disperse.
Someone, unknown to this day, then threw a bomb at the massed police. In their confusion, the police began firing their weapons in the dark, killing at least four in the crowd and wounding many more. Several police were killed (only one by the bomb), the rest probably by police fire. The myth of the Haymarket Riot was born.
In the aftermath of the event, unions were raided all across the country. The Eight-Hour Movement was derailed and it was not until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935, that the 8-hour workday became the national standard, a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act passed during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal."
Albert Parsons and seven others associated with radical organizations were prosecuted in a show trial. None were linked to the unknown bomb thrower, and some were not even present at the time. They were held to be responsible for the bomb thrower's act, because their public criticism of corporate America, the political structure, and the use of police power against the working people, was alleged to have inspired the bomber.
They were found guilty in a trial which Governor John Peter Altgeld subsequently held to be grossly unfair. On June 26, 1894, Altgeld pardoned those defendants still alive and in prison; but Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel had been hanged, and Lingg was an apparent suicide.
The Haymarket case became a world-wide scandal. Governor Oglesby was petitioned by hundreds of thousands, including AFL President Samuel Gompers, to grant clemency, and thus prevent a miscarriage of justice by stopping the executions. Appeals by the defense delayed the hanging for over a year. The seven were scheduled to hang on November 11, 1887. The day before the execution, November tenth, Governor Oglesby commuted the sentences of Saumel Fielden and Michael Schwab to life inprisonment. The remaining prisoners were to be hanged the next day. Louis Lingg cheated the executioner and killed himself in his cell by biting down on a dynamite blasting cap. August Spies, Adolph Fischer, Aulbert Parsons, and George Engel, were hanged on November 11th, known as "Black Friday".
In July of 1889, a delegate from the AFL attending an international labor conference in Paris, urged that May 1 of each year be celebrated as a day of labor solidarity. It was adopted. Accordingly, with the exception of the United States, workers throughout the world consider May First to be their "Labor Day."
Labor Day in the Philippines
May 1, 1903 was the date of the first labor day celebrated in the Philippines. It was organized by the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), the firstlabor federation in the Philippines.
Isabelo delos Reyes was acknowledge as the Father of Philippine Organized Labor.