125th Anniversary of May Day
This year, the world is celebrating the 125 years of May Day events. Let us have a look at some of the historic developments.
The First International or the International Workingmen's Association (1864-76) played a major role in the American labour movement. The headquarters of the International had to be shifted to New York in 1872, at the suggestion of Marx and Engels, due to the disruptive activities of the Anarchists. This turned out to be helpful to the American labour movement. There were 30 sections and 5000 members of the International in the US in 1872.
The First International has been struggling for 10 hour and then 8 hour workday since long, and Marx wrote a lot on the subject. The Chartist movement in England raised the two main political demands of voting rights for the workers and 10 hour workday between 1838 and 1844.
Struggle for reduction in workday
The struggle for the reduction and fixing of workday is very old. Many important events took place in this connection at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. For example, the famous economist, progressive entrepreneur and utopian socialist Robert Owen introduced 10 hour day in his New Lenark factory in 1810. He also introduced workers' cooperatives and tried to combine children's work with their education. The Factor Act of 1833 in England introduced 15 hour workday. The Factory Act introduced on 1 July 1847 in England introduced 10 hour day, a great victory.
The number of workers in America was rising rapidly due to industrialization and immigration. As a result their movements and organizations were on the rise. Powerful trade unions, spread of red banners and red flags became the order to the day by the 1860s and 70s.
Several American states introduced 10 hour day between 1836 and 1858. National trade union of 1834 was al leading organization of the US. The US president Martin van Buren introduced 10 hour day for the government employees in 1840. The civil war in America brought out the place and the role of the working class more clearly.
At the same time, the movement was now turning into that for 8 hour day. This was reflected in the song popular among the workers at that time:
"We want to feel the sunshine/And we want to smell the flowers/We are sure that God has willed it/And we mean to have eight hours."
In Baltimore, 77 worker delegates gathered from all over USA on August 16, 1877 to discuss 8 hour leagues', TU organizations etc. They belonged to cigar, iron, hat, railroad, coach and other industries, founded the National Labour Union and demanded 8 hours.
Importance of Chicago
Chicago became an important industrial centre of America by the 1870s and 80s. It was the third largest city of the US in 1873, consisting of workers from various countries. It has the contrasting poles of the wealthy and the rich and the extreme poor and destitute.
The US was gripped by an acute economic crisis in the 1870s, leading to a powerful workers' movements. The workers' leader Justus Schwab unfurled the red flag in New York on 13 January 1874. Red flag became common among the Americans. Earlier in 1872 also the red flag was unfurled. Schwab was arrested. Massive processions were taken out in the giant Chicago between 1873 and 1875.
The American cities produced great labour leaders: Parsons, Spies, Schwab, Johann Most, Oscar Neebe, Fischer, Fielden and others. Many of them belonged to Chichago.
The knights of Labour and the American Federation of Labour were the most powerful labour organizations in the country. The Federation was very strong among the coal miners of Pennsylvania and other places. The immigrant workers used to be loaded in the trains in thousands soon upon arrival and sent to the pits directly. They would work rest of their life crawling in the hell of the dark labyrinths under the ground, dying in hundreds.
The famous American railroad (railway) strike took place in 1877 in protest against 10 percent cut in their wages. It was almost a countrywide strike.
May Day in India
The struggle for fixing up the hours was gathering momentum in the end of the 19th Century. Even a strike of railway workers took place in Howrah in April-May 1862 demanding 8 hours day.
The May Day was observed in India for the first time in 1923 in two places on the madras beach: on led by Singaravelu Chettiar, the other presided over by S. Krishnaswamy Sarma. M.N. Roy's paper 'Vanguard' reported it. Singaravely unfurled the red flag on the day at his house too.
In 1926, May day was observed in Lahore, Bombay and other places. The AITUC officially observed May Day from 1927 onwards all over the country.
Today it has become a great festival of the working class.
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