The May day bank holiday was introduced by the then Secretary of State for Employment Labour MP Michael Foot as a day to honour workers on International workers Day.
International Workers Day is also partley a commemoration of the Haymarket massacre. Workers in the Chicago employed on a paupers wage worked 14 hours a day six days a week all year long. Workers attempted to organise and ask for better working conditions this resulted in employers using acts of violence against them.
As workers gathered in protest and to ask for an 8 hour day police arrived en masse ordering them to disperse. A group of Anarchists amongst the crowd threw a homemade bomb at the police killing one officer. The police opened fire on the demonstrators taking time to reload and continue firing. In the confusion some police officers even managed to shoot each other. Seven police officers died and official records say Four protesters but other reports put the number at fifty dead as many mortally wounded were afraid to seek medical attention fearing arrest.
Its easy to sit back and say “the brought it upon themselves” by throwing the bomb, but you have to remember the identity of the bomb thrower has never been identified. Also it needs to be looked at with the context of the time when companies employed Pinkerton guards who repeatedly used lethal violence against workers.
This was a brutal time for workers rights, the Haymarket incident was just one of many that passed on the way to establishing the eight hour day.
And now we jump forward to today were the Tory lead coalition are looking to abandon the May Day bank holiday (they would like to move it to October)
I’m not saying that workers today face the same brutality that our comrades once faced but what I am seeing is they face an erosion of employment rights not seen since those times. The government keeps telling us that it is making changes to employment law to make the employment market more flexible, this is despite the fact that the UK already has one of the most lightly regulated employment systems in the world.
Their seems an attitude were people now live in fear of speaking up if they are mistreated at work. An atmosphere of if i’m not happy with the situation they can just get someone to replace me. This is not the way it should be, it should be beneficial for both employers and employees to be in an environment were workers are treated fairly.
On this day let’s remember the workers of the past. But let’s not forget the workers of the future and the prospects they face