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Immigrants are yet another group that the right wants us to turn against, to keep working people from seeing that their interests—native-born and immigrant, working-class and middle-class, union and non-union—are shared in this high-inequality economy.
      - Laura Clawson in her FP post on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis

       :: ::

AriamendiOn a sunny April day, I paid a visit to my favorite bakery in San Franciso. Amongst the beautiful baguettes and sumptuous scones, I saw a sign stating that the shop would be closed on May 1 to celebrate Labor Day.

Since Arizmendi Bakery is worker-owned, it didn't surprise me that they would chose the May 1 observation, which is common in Europe and other locales. "Just a San Francisco thing," I told myself. I had always figured the US had a different Labor Day celebration for old, cold war reasons - at least that's what I always imagined.

It turns out though, that there's an important reason why much of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1. It's to commemorate a hard-fought, yet forgotten victory by American and immigrant workers that took place right here in the United States: the May 1, 1886 Haymarket Protest in Chicago.

So why doesn't the US celebrate this? Follow me below the squiggle ...

Stories and Headlines (of a different sort than the usual OND!)

Before we go back 125 years to see how Labor Day started, let's first go back 5 years:

  • Marchers fill L.A.'s streets
    By Anna Gorman, Marjorie Miller and Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times
(Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)
RAISING THEIR BANNERS: Immigrants and supporters gather at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway in one of two Los Angeles marches that attracted hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)
May 2, 2006 - Feeling power in their numbers, hundreds of thousands of people marched peacefully, even joyously, through the streets of Los Angeles on Monday as part of a nationwide demonstration of economic and political clout by immigrants -- legal and illegal.

Thousands of businesses were shuttered on the "Day Without Immigrants" as workers and their families, most of them from Mexico, participated in a boycott of work and commerce, rallying to demonstrate their importance to the U.S. economy and to demand changes in immigration law that would give illegal migrants a path to citizenship.

A crowd estimated by Los Angeles police at 250,000 marched to City Hall in the morning, after which many determined demonstrators made their way, on foot or by subway, to MacArthur Park for a larger march along Wilshire Boulevard. Police estimated that crowd at 400,000 and reported few problems.

"I want to come out of the shadows," said Josefina Cordoba, 46, of El Sereno, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who joined six family members on the City Hall march. A cleaning woman who earns $70 a day, she said it was worth losing a day's wages to make her case. She clutched a small poster that summed up the sentiments of many: "We Just Want a Taste of the American Dream."

There's a reason they picked May 1 to stage their demonstrations, and it wasn't because they wanted to dance around the maypole - it's because they knew their history, our history:

  • (not) BREAKING! - Chicago Police Kill Labor Activists
    It was a pleasant Saturday - May 1, 1886 - in Chicago. It was not the beginning of the weekend - many workers in the city (and across the nation) were still toiling six days a week...Across America, workers marched for the enforcement of the 8-hour work day and better child labor protections. Our government had already passed legislation for the 8-hour day, but there was virtually no enforcement.
    (Wikipedia) - There were an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in New York and 11,000 in Detroit. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin some 10,000 workers turned out. The movement's center was in Chicago, where an estimated 40,000 workers went on strike. Albert Parsons was an anarchist and founder of the International Working People's Association (IWPA). Parsons, with his wife Lucy and their children, led a march of 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue. Another 10,000 men employed in the lumber yards held a separate march in Chicago. Estimates of the total number of striking American workers range from 300,000 to half a million.

    "On May 3, striking workers met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant. A fight broke out on the picket lines, and Chicago police intervened and attacked the strikers, killing two, wounding several others and sparking outrage in the city's working community."

    In the end, two McCormick workers were killed (although some newspaper accounts said there were six fatalities). Spies would later testify, "I was very indignant. I knew from experience of the past that this butchering of people was done for the express purpose of defeating the eight-hour movement."

    Anarchists posted fliers announcing a protest against the killngs, to be held at the center of commerce: Haymarket Square. Local anarchist August Spies published his famous pamphlet "Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!"

    Rally at Haymarket Square

    The rally began peacefully under a light rain on the evening of May 4. August Spies spoke to the large crowd while standing in an open wagon on a side street. According to many witnesses Spies said he was not there to incite anyone. Meanwhile a large number of on-duty police officers watched from nearby. The crowd was so calm that Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr., who had stopped by to watch, walked home early. Some time later the police ordered the rally to disperse and began marching in formation towards the speakers' wagon. A bomb was thrown at the police line and exploded, killing a policeman...; seven other policemen later died from their injuries...The police immediately opened fire on the crowd, injuring dozens. Many of the wounded 'were afraid to visit hospitals for fear of being arrested. A total of eleven people died.

    "Within hours..., the mayor of Chicago - Carter Harrison - who just hours before had described the Haymarket meeting as 'tame', now declared that: 'Our great city cannot expect another day of lawlessness at the hands of the Anarchist forces that endanger our way of life.'

    Even more succinctly, District Attorney Julius Grinnell stated to the press: 'We're making the raids first, and looking up the law later!'

    And that's exactly what they did." (dannyinla)

    Labor has always been about immigrants.

    Immigration was a big a factor in labor issues then as it is now. Of the 8 people arrested and charged with the murder of the police officer, 5 of them were German immigrants: August Spies,  Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Micheal Schwab and Louis Lingg. Oscar Neebe was German-American. The other two were Americans Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.

    Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Lingg committed suicide in prison. The remaining three escaped hanging and were finally pardoned in 1893.

    The prosecution did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing, but argued that the person who had thrown the bomb had been incited to do so by the defendants, who as conspirators were equally responsible.

    The jury returned guilty verdicts for all eight defendants, with death sentences for seven. Neebe...received a sentence of 15 years in prison. The sentencing sparked outrage from budding labor and workers movements, resulted in protests around the world, and made the defendants international political celebrities and heroes within labor and radical political circles. Meanwhile the press had published often sensationalized accounts and opinions about the incident, all of which tended to polarize public reaction. Wikipedia

    Why there are 2 days for Labor Day

    It can be argued that the execution of the Haymarket martyrs effectively stalled the American labor movement for decades.

    However the fame of the defendants ensured that each year, May 1 would commemorate these historic events and become a day to celebrate labor and workers all over the world.

    But in the United States in the late 1880's, in order to disassociate labor movements from the "radical" left, a new Labor Day was established in September.

    [P]resident Grover Cleveland believed that a May 1 holiday could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus, fearing that it might strengthen the socialist movement, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their date for Labor Day.


    I began this piece by pointing out the immigrant labor protests from 5 years ago. In 2006, proving that they understood history and that they appreciated the long-standing ties between immigrants and the labor movement, immigrant groups in the United States chose May 1 for a protest:

    Many Americans are not even aware that May 1 is when Labour Day is celebrated throughout the rest of the world. However, in 2006, May 1st was chosen by immigrant groups in the United States as the day for the Great American Boycott, an attempted general strike of immigrant workers to protest H.R. 4437. link

    When you consider the German immigrants, German-Americans, and other Americans who took part in the original May 1 protests, you realize that the immigrant labor movement in this country has come full circle. The next time that someone tries to tell you that immigrant laborers have a lot of nerve protesting for fair working conditions in the United States and they should be happy just to be here, please tell them that protesting for fair work conditions is  as American as apple pie. The immigrants today may be from different countries and the jobs may have changed some, but the issues are the same as they ever were.


Arizmendi Bakery: Why the Name Arizmendi?

dannyinla's diaries:
May Day, 1886... and how four citizens came to hang
May 3rd, 1886 - WORKINGMEN, TO ARMS!!
May 4th, 1886 - The Haymarket Bombing
May 5th, 1886 - Rounding up the Haymarket martyrs

Wikipedia articles:
May Day
Labor Day (United States)
Haymarket affair

My Previous Diaries on this subject:
Scones, Baguettes and an Arizmendi Bakery Labor Day
Class and Labor: The Haymarket "Riot"
Chicago Police Kill Labor Activists (Not Breaking)

Finally, keep abreast of the latest in labor issues by following Daily Kos Labor.

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