The working class of India has been bravely resisting the massive attack of the ruling class on its rights to organise and to fight for better conditions of work. Workers belonging to the transport, construction, railway, IT and other sectors, anganwadi workers, teachers and doctors have come out in huge demonstrations. Coming May Day will be a great inspiration for them to forge their unity and take their struggles to greater heights.
Efforts of the Indian ruling class to belittle the significance of May Day as the International Labour Day. Its historic significance continues to be valued by Indian working people.
On May 1, 1886, Chicago witnessed a great outpouring of workers, who laid down tools at the call of the organized labor movement of the city. It was the most effective demonstration of class solidarity yet experienced by the labor movement itself. The 8-hour movement in the US, culminating in the strike on May 1, 1886, forms by itself a glorious chapter in the fighting history of the working class.The victorious march of the Chicago workers was arrested by the then superior combined force of the employers and the capitalist state, determined to destroy the militant leaders, hoping thereby to deal a deadly blow to the entire labor movement of Chicago. The events of May 3 and 4, 1886 which led to what is known as the Haymarket Affair were a direct outgrowth of the May 1 strike.
On May 3, police brutally attacked a peaceful meeting of striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works in Chicago, resulting in the death of six workers. In response to this unprovoked barbaric attack by the police, the workers organised a demonstration on May 4 at the Haymarket Square. The meeting was peaceful and about to be adjourned when agent provocateurs working for the police threw a bomb into the crowd. In the anarchy and violence that was deliberately organized by the police and agent provocateurs, several people were killed and many injured.
The capitalist media in the US then launched a massive anti worker campaign, painting workers as anarchists and criminals and calling for their hanging. Seven workers were sentenced to death. Among them one committed suicide and four workers were hanged. Later on the entire trial was exposed as a farce. For a time, the capitalist class in the US was able to suppress the working class movement for rights by unleashing a ferocious onslaught on workers. However, it was unable to destroy the fighting spirit of the workers, who decided to organize rallies throughout the US on May 1, 1990.
On July 14, 1889, the centenary of the fall of the Bastille, leaders from organized revolutionary proletarian movements of many countries came together in Paris to found what became known as the Second International. Although he could not personally attend this conference, Frederick Engels played a guiding role in its proceedings. In the period since the First International founded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Marxism had won a decisive victory in the working class movement over anarchism and other petty bourgeois trends. Working class parties had emerged and grown strong in all the capitalist countries of Europe and North America. The working class movement for political rights had become strong in many countries. In these conditions, the Paris Congress declared that May 1, 1890 will be celebrated as Labor Day internationally.
The Paris Congress adopted the following Resolution: “The Congress decides to organize a great international demonstration, so that in all countries and in all cities on one appointed day the toiling masses shall demand of the state authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours, as well as the carrying out of other decisions of the Paris Congress. Since a similar demonstration has already been decided upon for May 1, 1890, by the American Federation of Labor at its Convention in St. Louis, December, 1888, this day is accepted for the international demonstration. The workers of the various countries must organize this demonstration according to conditions prevailing in each country”.
The origin of May Day is closely bound up with the struggle for the shorter workday – a demand of major political significance for the working class. This struggle started almost from the beginning of the factory system in Britain, the US and European countries.
In his preface to the fourth German edition of the Communist Manifesto, which he wrote on May 1, 1890, Engels, reviewing the history of the international proletarian organizations, called attention to the significance of the first International May Day:
“As I write these lines, the proletariat of Europe and America is holding a review of its forces; it is mobilized for the first time as One army, under One Flag, and fighting One immediate aim: an eight-hour working day, established by legal enactment.... The spectacle we are now witnessing will make the capitalists and landowners of all lands realize that today the proletarians of all lands are, in very truth, united. If only Marx were with me to see it with his own eyes”!
Since then, workers throughout the world have celebrated May 1 as a day of solidarity among workers of all lands, in the common struggle against capitalism and for liberation from all forms of exploitation.