May Day likely originated as a pagan celebration of spring, but it’s probably better known today as International Workers’ Day. Although not officially recognized by the US government, which favors a Labor Day in September, May Day’s labor connotations actually have their roots in Chicago’s history, as Studs explains in this video.
May Day was officially selected as International Workers’ Day in 1889 by the Second International, an organization of socialist and labor parties in Paris, in memory of Chicago’s Haymarket affair. May 1, 1886, had been chosen by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (precursor to the American Federation of Labor) as the official beginning of the 8-hour work day. Starting on that day, strikes were held leading up to the fateful events of May 4, 1886, when a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned violent after an unidentified person threw a bomb, inciting the police to pull their firearms against the crowd. The leaders of the rally were eventually convicted of murder and inciting violence, despite little to no evidence, and four of them were hanged as punishment.
Portions of this video were shot for “Rocking the Boat,” a documentary on the labor movement produced by John de Graaf, Mirko Popadic, and Alan Harris Stein.