Each year, people across the globe take to the streets to commemorate International Workers’ Day, or May Day.
In dozens of countries, May Day is an official holiday, and for labour rights campaigners it is particularly important.
In the United States, it is symbolic of past labour struggles against a host of workers’ rights violations, including lengthy work days and weeks, poor conditions and child labour.
Why is International Workers’ Day on May 1?
In the late-19th century, socialists, communists and trade unionists chose May 1 to become International Workers’ Day.
The date was symbolic, commemorating the Haymarket affair, which took place in Chicago, in the US, in 1886.
For years, the working class – often forced to work up to 16 hours a day in unsafe conditions – had been fighting for an eight-hour workday.
Then, in October 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions of the United States and Canada decided that May 1, 1886, would mark the first day that an eight-hour workday would go into effect.
When that day arrived, between 300,000 and a half-million American workers went on strike in cities and towns across the country, according to various historians’ estimates.
Chicago, which was the nucleus of the struggle, saw an estimated 40,000 people protest and strike.
Until May 3, the strike was well-coordinated and largely nonviolent.
But as the end of the workday approached, striking workers in Chicago attempted to confront strikebreakers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. Large police contingents were protecting the strikebreakers, and officers opened fire on the striking workers, killing at least two.
As the police attempted to disperse the protesters on May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown at them, killing seven officers and at least four civilians.
Police subsequently rounded up and arrested eight anarchists, all of whom were convicted of conspiracy. A court sentenced seven to death and one to 15 years imprisonment. Four were hanged, one committed suicide rather than face the gallows and two had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
Those who died are regarded by many on the left, including both socialists and anarchists, as the “Haymarket Martyrs”.
The Haymarket affair galvanised the broader labour movement.
In 1889, the Second International, the international organisation for workers and socialists, declared that May 1 would from then on be International Workers’ Day.
In the US, however, the eight-hour work day wasn’t recognised until it was turned into law in 1916, after years of strikes, protests and actions in favour of it.
What should you expect in 2017?
With a growing protest movement against the policies of US President
Donald Trump and increasing clashes between his supporters and opponents, there will be large demonstrations in several US cities, including New York, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, DC, among others.
In recent weeks, clashes between anti-fascist, or Antifa, activists and Trump supporters have increased in frequency and intensity. Two weeks ago in Berkeley, California, pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators fought in the streets, leading to multiple arrests and injuries.
On Monday, organisers from Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights campaign, say an estimated 400,000 workers have committed to strike in the US.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a left-wing organisation, and several anarchist and anti-fascist groups plan to hold protests in New York City and elsewhere.
Police and demonstrators clashed during Trump’s inauguration on January 20 [File: Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images]
The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (MACC), a New York City-based umbrella group, called for a mass anti-fascist and anti-capitalist bloc to stand in solidarity with immigrants, workers and prisoners.
Before the planned protests, police in Seattle, Washington, have prepared for violent confrontations. A police official says anti-Trump sentiment is likely to fuel the protests and lead to confrontations between his supporters and opponents.
“I think there’s a great opportunity for crowd on crowd conflict,” Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler said on Friday, according to local news. He said the police were preparing by practising crowd control techniques and the formation of barriers.
Protests are expected to be held in several countries across the globe.
In Nazareth, hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel, mostly from the local communist party, already marched to commemorate May Day on Saturday.
Source: Al Jazeera