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International Workers Day: 11 Facts Black Workers Should Know

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People in countries all over the world celebrate International Workers’ Day in order to respect and highlight the contribution of workers to society. On this day in the 19th century, workers were advocating for better conditions as opposed to an 8-hour workday.

The international workers day is also known as may day or the labour day. Trade unions, labor movements, and activists in The United States and Canada observe the day on the first Monday of September. The American Federation of Labor set the day on May 1, 1886. In Europe and the Soviet Union, they celebrate the day on May 1.

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Here are 11 facts black workers should know about International Workers’ Day.

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11 Facts Black Workers Should Know

Workers from different industries
Workers from different industries. Image source: Freepik licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
  1. The first incident leading to International Worker’s Day started in April 1856. This was when Australian stonemasons in Victoria undertook a mass stoppage as part of the eight-hour workday movement. The protest would become a yearly commemoration, inspiring American workers to strike for the first time.  Consequently, May 1 was chosen as International Workers’ Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. That year, beginning May 1, there was a general strike for the eight-hour workday.
  2. The idea of International Labor Day first became public in September 1882, when the unions of New York City decided to have a parade to celebrate their union members. Additionally, the group wanted to show support for all unions. Approximately 20,000 workers participated in the parade, and they lost a day’s pay to attend. This called for much deliberation afterward.
  3. The New York parade inspired other unions. Other regions started having parades, and by 1887, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado had made Labor Day a state holiday.
  4. Until the 19th century, labor celebrations focused on parades in urban areas. However, the holiday has evolved over the years—International Workers Day honors organized labor with fewer parades and more activities. It also marks the end of summer.
  5. Seven police officers and four others were killed when a bomb exploded at a union rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square on May 4, 1886. As a result, the event influenced the decision to celebrate workers on May 1. 
  6. Matthew Maguire, a machinist, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter, were linked to the 1882 New York parade. Since the two men have similar-sounding names, it’s difficult to identify the exact person to credit. Hence, the two men received credit for events that led to Workers’ Day.
  7. Labor Day became a national holiday thanks to Grover Cleveland. After violence related to the Pullman railroad strike, President Cleveland and lawmakers in Washington wanted a federal holiday to celebrate labor. This was not a holiday celebrated on May 1. Cleveland signed an act in 1894 establishing the federal holiday; most states had already passed laws establishing Labor Day holidays by that point.
  8. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of hot dog season. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.
  9. An annual Labor Day parade still takes place in New York City, 20 blocks north of where the 1882 labor march was held.
  1. Working people take a day off from their usual duties on Workers’ Day. This is an opportunity to organize campaigns for your rights as a worker, show solidarity with other workers, and recognize the achievements of workers around the world. 
  2. During the 19th century, Americans worked 12-hour days, seven days a week!

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Why is International Workers’ Day Celebrated?

Employees pose for the camera. Image source: Freepik licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

International Workers’ Day is a celebration of working people and a day when people campaign for decent work and fair pay. As a result of protests in 1887, millions of employees continue to benefit from minimum wages, limited working hours, and a right to paid holidays and sick pay. 

400,000 employees across the USA went on strike in May 1886, calling for an eight-hour workday. Despite the peaceful beginning of the strike, there were reports of violence on the third day of the demonstrations in Chicago.

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Numerous unarmed workers were killed when the police opened fire on them. More protests took place the following day, and someone bombed the crowd. Seven police officers and four workers were killed as a result.

In the aftermath of the bomb incident, 8 employees were detained, but the bomber’s identity was never uncovered. One of them received a 15-year prison term, and seven of them received death sentences.

This occurrence, known as the Haymarket Affair, played a significant role in uniting working people in the USA. Many raised concerns about the guilt of the accused men, while others criticized the unfairness of the trial. The Haymarket Affair became a symbol of the battle for workers’ rights everywhere, and May 1 was designated as International Workers’ Day.

Here’s a video sharing the details that led to Workers’ Day.

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.

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