The history of the world holiday on the 1st May - May Day, or International Workers Day, held in commemoration of four anarchists executed for struggling for an 8-hour day.
Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.
In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had, in the words of the prosecution put “Anarchy is on trial” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.
The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886 .
It began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted an historic resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886”.
In the months prior to this date workers in their thousands were drawn into the struggle for the shorter day. Skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native and immigrant were all becoming involved.