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posted 29 Apr 2014, 07:08 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Apr 2014, 07:20 ]



Ever since the development of capitalism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, workers have struggled to improve their conditions of life through combining in unions. A major focus of the struggles of workers has been to reduce the length of the working day. In those days workers used to work sixteen hours per day and through a series of bitter struggles they were able to reduce the working day to ten hours. 
In the 1850’s Australian workers set the objective of an eight hour workday declaring eight hours for work; eight hours for recreation and eight hours for rest. This slogan became popular throughout the international labour movement 

In 1884, the U.S. Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions declared that from May 1st, 1886, an eight hour workday would be the full and legal workday for all U.S. workers. Of course the capitalists did not comply 

On May 1st, 1886; hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the USA came out into the streets in a general strike to force the bosses to implement the eight-hour working day. On May 3 the Chicago police opened fire on unarmed striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works, killing six workers and wounding untold numbers. 

On May 4, the International Working Peoples' Association organized a rally at Haymarket Square to protest the continuing police brutality against striking workers. Armed police attacked the workers. Many workers were killed and seven policemen. Eight activists were arrested on charges of "inciting riot" and murder. Four of them: Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fisher were executed. 
In July 1889 the International Congress of Paris adopted May 1st as the International Socialist holiday to commemorate the Haymarket martyrs. On May 1st 1890 mass demonstrations and strikes were held throughout the world, wherever the workers movement was organised. 
The workers put forward demands for an 8 hour working day, better health conditions, for social legislation, for equal suffrage for men and women, for greater political and industrial freedom and better conditions of livelihood and as a protest against militarism and war. Workers throughout the world began to celebrate May 1st as a day of international workers solidarity and continue to do so. 
During the 1950’s and sixties in Trinidad and Tobago, the then expanding trade union movement celebrated May 1st with huge demonstrations and rallies, but since the early seventies when the PNM government removed holiday status from May Day it went into decline but did not die. May 1st began to be celebrated with indoor rallies organized by individual unions and lately it was celebrated with demonstrations in San Fernando organized by the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU). 
May Day 2014 is being marked by a national COSSABO at OWTU headquarters, but the executive of the National Workers Union (NWU) had already decided to picket the Minister of Labour on that day; the COSSABO had not yet been organized when the NWU decision was made. 
June 19th commemorates the anti-colonial uprising which gave rise to the trade union movement in Trinidad and Tobago and May Day commemorates the international nature of the workers movement.



Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer – Cell: 785-7637)

Gerry Kangalee,
29 Apr 2014, 07:08