IT came as a surprise to most of our kababayans residing in the United States that May 1, International Workers Day, is not a communist legacy but an American one.
Unfortunately, despite its American roots, there is no official observance of the IWD in the states on the first of May. The U.S. observes Labor Day on a different date – that is on every first Monday of September – not with labor marches but by having bargain sales in major department stores.
The decision to ignore the May 1 Labor Day celebration was originally made by former President Grover Cleveland in 1887 in an apparent move to downplay the government’s unsuccessful attempt to suppress American labor union’s demand for better working conditions, especially the eight hour a day work. He is also concerned that a May Day celebration would further strengthen the socialist movement in the predominantly individualist and capitalist U.S.
Despite the encouragement from several international labor organizations, the U.S.government decided in 1958 to keep its September celebration of Labor Day since May 1 is already perceived to have been appropriated as its own holiday by the then Soviet Union, its bitter Cold War rival. Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress could not just ignore the date’s significance and decided to designate it as Loyalty Day.
The IWD is now celebrated every May 1 in at least 80 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America and Australia.
Records show that the first ever May 1 Labor Day demonstration in the world happened in 1886 when hundreds of thousands of unionized American workers went into the streets of Chicago to demand an eight hour work day. The peaceful protest march ended when policemen opened fire on the peacefully protesting workers killing four and wounding hundreds of others. This incident led to more labor protest actions in the U.S. that culminated in a riot on May 3, 1886 in Haymarket, Chicago where a bomb was exploded by unidentified persons killing a dozen people, including seven policemen.
A sensational show trial ensued in which eight defendants were openly tried for their political beliefs, and not necessarily for any involvement in the bombing. The ensuing trial of those involved in the Haymarket affair lead to the public hanging of seven defendants who were reportedly anarchists.
The Haymarket incident was a source of outrage from people around the globe. In the following years, memory of the “Haymarket martyrs” was remembered with various May Day job actions and demonstrations. As such, May Day has become an international celebration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement, including the adoption of an eight hour work day as a labor standard.
In the Philippines,more than 100,000 workers and Katipunan veterans led by the Union Obrero Democratica de Filipinas celebrated the first Labor Day on May 1, 1903. They marched to Malacanang and demanded better working condition for the Filipino workers.
In response, the American colonial government, directed its loyal paramilitary group, the Philippine Constabulary, to raid UODF offices and arrest Dominador Gomez, the UODF president. Gomez, who is the great grandfather of actor Richard Gomez, was later co-opted by the Americans into betraying Macario Sakay, a Katipunan veteran who fought alongside the father of the Philippine Revolution Andres Bonifacio.
Sakay established the Republika ng Katagalugan in 1902 and continue fighting the Americans until 1907 when he was betrayed by Gomez to the Americans. He was later executed by the North American colonialists.
Ten years after the first May Day celebration in the Philippines, Herminigildo Cruz, another Katipunan veteran, organized the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas (COF). Like its organized American brethren it successfully fought for an eight-hour work day. From then on, the Philippine labor movement grew. Nevertheless, it is still a long way from becoming a truly major force of change in Philippine society because it is beset by disunity due to different ideologies. It is also a constant victim of suppression by the reactionary Philippine state.
*The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.