Today In Labor History May 1

1800s-1860s

Today In Labor History May 1, 1807: The Slave Trade Act of 1807 abolished slavery in the British Empire.

May 1, 1830Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was born. Mother Jones was renowned for her militancy and fiery oration, as well as her many juicy quotes. She once said, “I’m no lady. I’m a hell-raiser.”  She also was an internationalist, saying “My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression.” Despite the difficulties of constant travel, poor living and jail, she lived to be 100.

Mother Jones co-founded the IWW, in 1905, along with Big Bill Haywood, Lucy Parsons, James Connolly and Eugene Debs. Before that, she was an organizer with the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers. In 1903, she led a march to Teddy Roosevelt’s house to protest the exploitation of child labor. Capitalists called her the most dangerous woman in America. Feminists accused her of being against women’s suffrage. However, she believed it was more important to liberate the working class and argued, “you don’t need the vote to raise hell!”

Today In Labor History May 1, 1866: White Democrats and police attacked freedmen and their white allies in Memphis. By the end of the three-day race riot, 46 blacks and 2 whites were dead

1880s

May 1, 1883Cigar makers in Cincinnati threatened to strike because factory owners charged them 30 cents per month to heat their factories.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1884: “8 hours shall constitute a legal day’s work starting May 1, 1886.” This was the resolution of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, forerunner of the AFL. Ironically, this union, was created as a conservative foil against the radical Knights of Labor. However, their resolution helped radicalize workers and set things in motion for the General Strike of May 1, 1886.

May 1, 1886: The first nationwide General Strike for the 8-hour day occurred. Between 350,000 and 500,000 workers struck in Chicago, Milwaukee and other U.S. cities. On May 3, Chicago police killed several demonstrators and wounded over 200. As a result, anarchists called for a public meeting in Haymarket Square. Someone threw a bomb at that meeting. Consequently, the police started mass-arresting anarchists. They tried and convicted eight of them in a kangaroo court. And then the state executed four of them. Because of these events, workers around the world celebrate May 1 as International Workers Day. Everywhere but in the U.S.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1888: Nineteen machinists at the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad voted to form a union. Their action came as a result of a wage cut. Their union later became the International Association of Machinists.

May 1, 1889: The first International Workers Day was celebrated. But not in the U.S. because American capitalists wanted to whitewash their history of violence toward workers and undercut worker solidarity. So, instead, they created “Labor Day,” which is celebrated in September. 

1890s


Today In Labor History May 1, 1890: The first May Day celebration in Poland saw about 10,000 workers assemble in Warsaw. All nine organizers were arrested and sent to Russian prisons, where two of them died. 


May 1, 1894: The cross-country march by Coxey’s Army of the Unemployed ended with in a march down Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1899 – Tzarist police arrested 3000 of the 20,000 participants in Warsaw’s May Day demonstration. 

1900s

May 1, 1900: An explosion at a mine in Scofield, Utah, killed over 200 men. It was the fifth worst mining disaster in U.S. history.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1901The Cooks’ and Waiters’ Union struck in San Francisco. They were demanding one day of rest per week, a ten-hour work day. They also called for a closed union shop for all restaurants in the city.

May 1, 1906: 1,200 members of the Iron Molders Union in Milwaukee struck for shorter hours and more pay. They lost the strike after two years of bitter struggle. One employer, Allis-Chalmers, spent $21,700 to hire the Burr-Herr Detective Agency. As a result, there were over 200 assaults on union members. The agency also killed union leader Peter Cramer.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1909: Police killed 30 workers in Buenos Aires who were demonstrating for the eight-hour day.

Wobblies 1900s-1910s

May 1, 1907: IWW Lumberjacks struck in Missoula, Montana, for high wages.

Today In Labor History May, 1909: IWW Lumberjacks were on strike in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

May 1, 1912: IWW streetcar workers in Portland, Oregon were striking for higher pay.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1913: IWW lumberjacks were on strike in Marshfield, Oregon.

May 1, 1916: Miners went on strike in Porterville, CA. The IWW demanded $3.50 a day with an eight-hour work day and a housing at seventy-five cents a day. This was ignored by the bosses. So, on May 1st, three hundred men, out of eight hundred, went on strike. 

1920s-1930s

Today In Labor History May 1, 1923: Novelist Joseph Heller was born on this day. He published his most famous book, the anti-war satire, Catch-22, in 1961.

May 1, 1925: The All-China Federation of Trade Unions formed. It is currently the largest union in the world, with 134 million members.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1933: The first issue of the Catholic Worker was published. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who were anarchist-Catholics, founded The Catholic Worker in New York City. The first run of the paper, they published 2,500 copies. By 1936, circulation was 150,000. 

May 1, 1938: Congress enacted amendments to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, extending protections to the employees of state and local governments. However, these protections didn’t take effect until 1985 because of court challenges.

1940s

Today In Labor History May 1, 1944: The Nazis executed 200 Greek communists in Athens.

May 1, 1945: Goebbels, his wife and his children committed suicide together outside the Fuhrerbunker by taking cyanide pills.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1946: The three-year Pilbara strike began in Australia. In this strike, indigenous Australian pastoral workers demanded recognition of their human rights. They were also fighting for better wages and working conditions. The bosses often treated indigenous workers like slaves. Many didn’t even pay them in cash. Rather, they paid them in tobacco and food. And if indigenous workers tried to quit or leave, the police forced them back. Sometimes they massacred entire families. The strike was one of the longest in Australian history. And it was a major event in the struggle for indigenous rights.

1960s-1970s

May 1, 1961: Fidel Castro proclaimed Cuba a socialist nation. And thus, Cuba became a “workers’ paradise.” He also abolished elections, making the island a paradise for him to rule autocratically.

Today In Labor History May 1, 1977: Turkish authorities killed thirty-six people in Taksim Square, Istanbul. They were celebrating International Workers Day.

2000s

May 1, 2006 – Millions of immigrant workers stayed home from work to demand immigration reform. 100,000 immigrant workers gathered in San Jose, California. 200,000 marched in New York. And 400,000 demonstrated in Chicago and Los Angeles. There were demonstrations in at least 50 cities.

2 thoughts on “Today In Labor History May 1”

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  2. Pingback: Today in Labor History February 3 - Michael Dunn

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