May 1, Labor Day, is not always a feast for workers

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“Eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours for whatever you want!” Chanted workers across the United States a certain 1is May 1886. They were, according to estimates, between 300 and 500,000 to have followed the slogan of general strike to demand the reduction of their working hours.

In Chicago at the time, an important industrial center, the labor movement in its infancy was struggling to organize itself. For their part, to resist the pressure of the workers and their desire for change, the business owners did not spare their efforts. They also did not hesitate to use dubious methods to counter the young unions without succeeding in breaking popular momentum and mobilization. The movement grew, and in particular, under the leadership of the German community which in 1860 represented 20% of the city’s population. A politicized community since many of these immigrants had left Europe after the events of 1948, which had earned them the nickname “Forty-eighters” – forty-eight.

In September 1884, the Federation of Trade Unions fixed the date of 1is May 1886 for the introduction of the eight-hour day. As D-Day approached, they decided on a general strike and demonstrations. In this 1is historic May, about 80,000 people marched peacefully through the streets of Chicago. The movement continued on May 2, and on May 3, strikers who gathered in front of the McCormick factories met four hundred police officers called in by management to protect its premises. Police fired into the crowd killing two workers. The mobilization did not weaken, and the next day the situation degenerated, giving rise to what would go down in history as the Haymarket massacre.

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Three years later, in 1889, the Second Socialist International, meeting in Paris, decided to make the 1is May an international day of demonstrations for the reduction of the working day to eight hours. And it’s Jules Guesde, journalist and co-founder of the newspaper Legality, which gave it its name of “labor day”.

Over the years, if the claims have changed, the tradition has set in, in many countries. Then slowly she lost substance.

Today in France, the eight-hour day is already a thing of the past. For many the 1is May is just a public holiday like any other. It happily adds to the other non-working days of the month. At the beginning of spring, it mainly means picnics and barbecues, even memorable bitures. A few weeks before, at the latest when you take your vacation, you look at your calendar in the hope that it will fall on a Thursday just to make a little bridge … No more popular post-war demonstrations. We enjoy, almost jaded, those rights that men and women have won with a hard fight.

So perhaps while preparing our merguez sandwich, “no, thank you, no mustard”, we could dedicate a moving thought to them, quickly, before it cools down.

Oh yes, what about lily of the valley?

It’s a whole different story that dates back to Charles IX. He would have been in the habit of offering it as a lucky charm to all the ladies of the court at the beginning of May.

Catherine Fuhg

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