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May Day Event
Come celebrate Ottawa's Annual May Day festivities,
Starting at 8 PM, Saturday May 1st 1999, at Ottawa's favourite working
The Duke of Somerset (352 Somerset W. at Bank).
Featuring live music: Sabo Tabby, Dave Bleakney,
Admission is free, with donations accepted on behalf of the bands.
Sponsored by: CUPE District Council, CUPE 4600, CUPE Council -
International Affairs Committee, Ottawa and District Labour Council, OPIRG
- Carleton, GRIPO - Ottawa U, Communist Party of Canada, Canadian
Federation of Students, IWW, New Socialists, CKCU 93.1
MAY DAY--THE REAL LABOR DAY
May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of
working people throughout the world, and is recognized in every country
except the United States and Canada. This despite the fact that the holiday
began in the 1880's in the United States, with the fight for an eight-hour
In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a
resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day's work
from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike to
achieve the goal, since legislative methods had already failed. With
workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day,
rank-and-file support for the eight-hour
movement grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union
leaders. By April 1886, 250,000 workers were involved in the May Day
The heart of the movement was in Chicago. Businesses and the state were
terrified by the increasingly revolutionary character of the movement and
prepared accordingly. The police and militia were increased in size and
received new and powerful weapons financed by local business leaders.
Chicago's Commercial Club purchased a $2000 machine gun for the Illinois
National Guard to be used against
strikers. Nevertheless, by May 1st, the movement had already won gains for
many Chicago clothing cutters, shoemakers, and packing-house workers. But
on May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of strikers at the McCormick
Reaper Works Factory, killing four and wounding many. Ativists called for a
mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality.
The meeting proceeded without incident, and by the time the last speaker
was on the platform, the rainy gathering was already breaking up, with only
a few hundred people remaining. It was then that 180 cops marched into the
square and ordered the meeting to disperse. As the speakers climbed down
from the platform, a bomb was thrown at the police, killing one and
injuring seventy. Police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one
worker and injuring many others.
Although it was never determined who threw the bomb, the incident was used
as an excuse to attack the entire Left and labor movement. Police ransacked
the homes and offices of suspected radicals, and hundreds were arrested
without charge. Eight of Chicago's most active were charged with conspiracy
to murder in connection with the Haymarket bombing. A kangaroo court found
all eight guilty, despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the
bomb-thrower (only one was even present at the meeting, and he was on the
speakers' platform), and
they were sentenced to die. Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer,
and George Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg committed
suicide in prison. The remaining three were finally pardoned in 1893.
It is not surprising that the state, business leaders, mainstream union
officials, and the media would want to hide the true history of May Day,
portraying it as a holiday celebrated only in Moscow's Red Square. In its
attempt to erase the history and significance of May Day, the United States
May 1st to be "Law Day", and gave us instead Labor Day--a holiday devoid of
any historical significance.
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