“Eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours for whatever you want! Chanted workers across the United States on May 1, 1886. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 followed the general strike word to demand reduced working hours.
In then Chicago, a major industrial center, the early labor movement was struggling to organize. For their part, to resist the pressure of the workers and their desire for change, the business leaders spared no efforts. They also did not hesitate to use questionable methods to counter the young unions without succeeding in breaking popular momentum and mobilization. The movement was growing, and in particular, under the leadership of the German community, which in 1860 represented 20% of the city’s population. A community politicized since many of these immigrants had left Europe after the events of 1848, which had earned them the nickname “Forty-eighters” – forty-eight.
In September 1884, the Federation of Trade Unions set May 1, 1886, for the introduction of the eight-hour day. As D-Day approached, they decided on a general strike and demonstrations. On this historic May 1, approximately 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 falter, and the next day the situation escalated, giving rise to what would go down in history as the Haymarket massacre.
Three years later, in 1889, the Second Socialist International, meeting in Paris, decided to make May 1 an international day of demonstrations for the reduction of the working day to eight hours. And it was Jules Guesde, journalist and co-founder of the newspaper L’Égalité, who gave it its name of “labor day”.
Over the years, while the claims have changed, the tradition has set in, in many countries. Then slowly she lost substance.
In France today, the eight-hour day is already a thing of the past. For many May 1 is just another holiday like any other. It happily adds to the other nonworking 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 to make a little bridging … 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.
It’s a whole different story that dates back to Charles IX. He would have been in the habit of giving them as a lucky charm to all the ladies of the court at the beginning of May.