The 1904 Conference of the Second International, called on "all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the eight hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace."
The date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket affair – the events that surrounded and followed a May 1886 union demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago.
At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), had proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886.”
Up to this point working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many workplaces.
On 1st May 1886, more than 300,000 workers from 13,000 businesses across the US walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, 40,000 went out on strike.
The demonstration at Haymarket Square began as a peaceful rally in support of the eight-hour work day. The previous day police had killed eight workers when they fired into the crowds at the McCormick Reaper Works.
On 4th May at Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. An estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to 40 were wounded.
The trial of eight protesters that followed is widely regarded as a miscarriage of justice. Four of them were executed in 1887. The remaining organisers were pardoned six years later.
The May Day movement spread across the industrialised world and is now celebrated as an official workers' holiday in 66 countries across the globe.
For more on the history of May Day and the Haymarket Affair visit the Industrial Workers of The World website and see also The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers (Time Magazine, 1st May 2018)
Events in Dublin and Cork
The annual Dublin May Day rally takes place this evening at 6.45pm. Organised by Dublin Council of Trade Unions, demonstrators are asked to assemble in Parnell Square prior to a march to a public meeting at Liberty Hall.
The event will draw attention to the housing crisis, problems in the health service, climate change, inequality and discrimination against migrants.
In Cork, the winners of Ireland’s Got Talent will be on hand to help Cork celebrate International Workers’ day at an event next Monday (6th May). Mayfest is a free event organised by the Cork Council of Trade Unions and ONE Cork, will be held at City Hall between 11am and 4pm.