May Day in the Meany Labor Archives!

Today is May Day! Also known as International Workers’ Day. May Day is considered an international labor holiday. This post highlights some of the materials in our collections related to May Day. Much of our May Day material can be found in the May Day, 1885-1986 folder in the vertical file collection, and the Haymarket folders in the Morris B. Schnapper collection!

May Day was created by a resolution initiated by American Socialists at the International Socialist Congress in Paris, France, in July of 1889. The purpose of May Day was to gain support for an eight-hour work day. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, precursor to the American Federation of Labor, and the Knights of Labor cooperated in preparing for a general strike in U.S. cities on May 1, 1886. And on that day, approximately 350,000 American workers went on strike, impacting over 11,000 businesses. Although workers in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, and other cities participated, Chicago was widely considered the center of May Day agitation, largely due to Chicago being one of the few cities with broad union and radical solidarity in support of the eight-hour day.

In Chicago, May Day demonstrations were large and continued for several days, with roughly 80,000 workers marching down Michigan Avenue, led by Albert and Lucy Parsons. According to a 1935 article written by Lucy Parsons, titled, “The Story of Haymarket,” between May 1st and May 3rd, “the strike was spreading like wild fire. The bosses were hostile, the police were brutal to the last degree!” On May 3rd, employees of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company held a noon meeting to discuss the strike, when, according to Parsons, “two patrol wagons, loaded with police, dashed down upon them and began clubbing and shooting those unarmed workers.” After the incident, August Spies, a speaker at the meeting, returned to the office of the German radical newspaper, Arbeiter Zeiting, and issued a flyer that called the famous meeting in Haymarket Square to “protest against this outrage.”

The next day, approximately 3,000 people attended the meeting at Haymarket Square. According to Lucy Parsons recount, “the Haymarket meeting was a perfectly peaceful meeting,” but as the meeting ended, “about two hundred police rushed upon us with drawn clubs and pistols, clubbing and shooting into this peacefully assembled meeting of men, women, and children.” After police rushed the meeting, “someone hurled a bomb into their ranks. Who threw that bomb was never known.” The bomb killed one policeman, and several others were fatally injured either by the bomb, or the rioting that followed.

Here is a publication from 1915 comparing May Day with Labor Day, written by Socialist Labor Party member Boris Reinstein, titled “International May Day and American Labor Day.” Reinstein compares May Day and Labor Day, arguing that May Day is the “drilling day for the Social Revolution,” that was “created by the workingmen themselves, in defiance of the capitalist class and its governments,” while Labor Day, on the other hand, was a “gift” that workers “received from their masters, the capitalists, through the capitalist politicians,” further arguing that Labor Day was “created by the political agents of the American capitalists to fan the sleeping giant, the American working class, while the capitalists are sucking its blood.”

Next, we have a 1931 “May Day Manifesto,” published by the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party, and printed by the Victoria House Printing Company in London. The manifesto calls for unity and organization, and “renews its pledge to strive in politics and industry for the creation of a saner system in which work and wealth will be equitably shared, leisure will be organised, and science and invention will lighten the toll of all, rather than service to enrich the few.” The manifesto also argues that “organisation is our most pressing and immediate task. In unity of purpose, in fidelity to the principles which inspired the pioneers of our Trade Union, Co-operative and Labour Organisations, we pledge ourselves afresh on this May Day to the ideals of freedom, peace, and social justice which our organised Movement exists to serve.”

Next, we have the front page, and main article the 1937 May Day issue of Miner’s Voice, published by the Butte Miners’ Union. The article revisits the 1917 Butte Miners’ Strike, where “miners, smelter workers, and mechanics in Butte and Anaconda, betrayed by the American Federation of Labor officials, national, state and local, struck against the rustling card system, for the right to organize and live like human beings.” For “the members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers–the bearer of the militant tradition of the Western Federation of Miners and of the long fight for industrial unionism shared with the United Mine Workers–,” May Day 1937 was “a day of rejoicing over signal victories gained and of confidence of victory in the serious struggles for the extension of industrial unionism to the mines, mills, and smelters as yet unorganized.” The article also expresses support for the Peoples Front in Spain, arguing that “the fight against Spanish Fascism is a fight against Fascist reaction in America.”

Next, we have a flyer from the Daily Worker for the 1948 May Day Rally at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C., held on Sunday May 2nd. The rally included speakers Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Gerhart Eisler, George Meyers, and William C. Taylor. Written from the perspective of “The Spirit of May Day,” the flyer provides background information on the history of May Day, while calling into question its current legacy, suggesting that mainstream media “spent the last 62 years trying to keep me locked in a closet so the people won’t hear my message.” Echoing the comparison made by Boris Reinstein in 1915, the flyer argues that the media “persuaded the leaders of the American Federation of Labor to change Labor Day from May 1 to the first Monday in September.” The flyer argues that, arriving in Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1948, “the Spirit of May Day finds, in fact, that the rulers of America, in the name of sacred American institutions, are out to dominate the world and establish a police state at home,” while providing a short and simple message: “Get together! Organize! Regardless of race, color or creed, unite!”

Next, we have a full-page article from the May 2-8, 1979 issue of In These Times, written by noted labor historian Richard Schneirov (a graduate student at Northern Illinois University at the time), titled “Haymarket: Albert Parsons and the American origins of May Day.” Suggesting that “May Day goes by quietly” in the U.S., Schneirov provides detailed history not only of May Day, or Haymarket, but the broader history behind the labor movement in Chicago, and the history of Albert Parsons, the “most prominent Chicago anarchist of the period.” Parsons’ political career, Schneirov argues, makes it clear that Haymarket radicals “were neither lone terrorists nor isolated radicals removed from mass trade union activity,” further arguing that “Parsons and the Chicago anarchists played a major formative role in the shaping of the American socialist and labor traditions. And it was those traditions that created the May Day labor holiday, celebrated now in almost every country in the world–except the U.S.”

"Haymarket: Albert Parsons and the American origins of May Day."

May 2-8, 1979 issue of In These Times. Haymarket Riot (1886), 1958-1986. George Meany Memorial Archives, Vertical File collection, 1.20.13. Special Collections and University Archives. https://archives.lib.umd.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/386349

For more information on May Day materials in our collections, please contact the Meany Labor Archives!

By Alan Wierdak, Archives Specialist for the George Meany Labor Archive.

 

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Collection Highlight: The Labor Heritage Foundation


John Handcox performing with Mike Honey. 0115-LBR, Box 14, Folder 26.

The Labor Heritage Foundation (LHF), an Allied Group of the AFL-CIO, was founded in 1983 by Joe Glazer, Joe Uehlein, and Saul Schniderman. The non-profit strives to promote labor activism through a combination of music, arts, and culture. Donated to the University of Maryland in 2016, the LHF records document decades of labor activities and events including: correspondence with leaders in the labor movement like Pete Seeger and Archie Green, administrative documents, songbooks, photographs, and audiovisual materials.

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Unions Protest the “War on Immigrants”

On June 10, 2002, protesters marched down Constitution Avenue with signs reading “STOP ASHCROFT’S WAR ON IMMIGRANTS” and “ASHCROFT: WHERE IS THE COMPASSION?”  These impassioned union members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 82 called for fair immigration laws and fair treatment of immigrants. This protest came in response to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s statement four days earlier:

“…arresting aliens who have violated criminal provisions of [the] Immigration and Nationality Act or civil provisions that render an alien deportable … is within the inherent authority of the states.” [1]

Ashcroft delivered this statement in light of the attacks on September 11, 2001, after which President George W. Bush’s administration tightened immigration restrictions in the interests of national security. Ashcroft called this policy a “new war [in which] our enemy’s platoons infiltrate our borders … The vulnerabilities of our immigration system became starkly clear on September 11.”[2] Bush and Ashcroft’s critics, including the SEIU and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) accused the administration of conflating the War on Terror with a war on immigrants in the United States and treating immigrant workers unfairly.

Founded in 1921, the SEIU has a long history of organizing workers in the service industry, including many immigrants. The Labor Collections team selected a photograph from the SEIU’s June 2002 protest in Washington, DC for the exhibit display “Immigrants Get the Job Done” because the SEIU is historically active in support of immigrant worker’s rights. In the photograph, you can see a “Justice for Janitors” banner, referencing one of the SEIU’s most famous campaigns. The Justice for Janitors movement, mainly comprised of low-wage immigrant workers, uses methods such as civil disobedience, in order to achieve social and economic justice, including fair wages, improved working conditions, and better healthcare.[3]

SEIU_Justice for Janitors

SEIU Local 82 marching against criminalization of undocumented immigrants, June 10, 2002. Photographer Bill Burke. Page One, Photography, Inc. Records. You can see this photograph in person in the exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online.

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From Protectionism to Inclusion: Unions and Immigrant Labor

The rights of immigrant workers in the United States is not a new debate. For labor unions, immigrant labor was not always viewed as a positive contribution to the fabric of American society. Long before the formation of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 1955, major national unions adopted protectionist and often-racist stances against Chinese labor reminiscent of current rhetoric surrounding Mexican immigrant labor in the United States. Examining the correspondence of two national labor union leaders at the beginning of the 20th century provides context for the debate about immigrant labor in the United States.

On February 1, 1905, Samuel Gompers, the President of the AFL (American Federation of Labor) wrote to Frank Duffy, the Secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA), expressing his concerns that local UBCJA unions in Honolulu might support Chinese immigrant labor. He claims,

“My information is that several local unions in Honolulu … are endangering the policy of protection of the American workmen and Caucasian race, by allowing them to be induced … to favor modification of the Chinese Exclusion law.”  (emphasis added)

Gompers was referring to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (renewed in 1892, made permanent in 1902, and repealed in 1943). The law prohibited the immigration of all Chinese laborers for 10 years and was the first law intended to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to, or becoming naturalized citizens of, the United States. Gompers saw the exclusion of Chinese labor from the U.S. Territory of Hawaii, which was not yet a state, as a cause for the labor movement, and even went so far as to describe Japanese labor as “evil.”

The above images are available in Digital Collections: Gompers and Duffy.

 

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LGBTQ Resources in Special Collections and University Archives

Looking to explore LGBTQ history, literature, and activism? We have lot of resources in Special Collections and University Archives that will pique your interest.

University Archives Collections

Gay Student Alliance – The Gay Student Alliance (GSA) was established at the University of Maryland in the 1970s as the successor of the Student Homophile Association (SHA). This collection contains newspaper clippings and editorials from the Diamondback chronicling the campus response to the gay community during the 1970s.

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Nancy Wohlforth: Uniting the Labor and LGBT Movements

“Since 1979, when the Gay and Lesbian Labor Alliance was formed, Nancy Wohlforth has been working to bring gay issues into the labor movement. Now the organization is called Pride At Work and is a full-fledged constituency group in the AFL-CIO. National cochair Wohlforth and the newly hired executive director, Kipukai Kuali’i, will fight for domestic-partner pension benefits, greater employment protection, and transgender inclusion. They also want gays and lesbians to understand the power and benefit of unions. ‘Frankly, a lot of people still see the union as a bunch of old white boys who want nothing to do with their interests,’ Wohlforth says, ‘clearly that’s not the case.’

-The Advocate on Nancy Wohlforth in the Best and Brightest Activists collection, August 17, 1999. Continue reading

Pride in the Labor Movement

Labor_Module10_LGBTQ_PrideAtWork_Poster

Pride at Work national convention poster by Ricardo Lewis Morales, Northland Poster Collective, San Diego, 2006. Pride at Work Records.

In honor of Pride Month, we are featuring items from the Labor Collections at Special Collections and University Archives that highlight the role of the LGBTQ+ community in the labor movement. This particular item will be on display in the upcoming exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” opening October 2017.  LGBTQ+ people of all types are involved in every aspect of labor, although labor unions ignored or excluded them until recent decades. The Pride at Work poster calls attention to the role the diverse LGBTQ+ community played in American history and American labor history and demonstrates a reversal of labor union policy towards LGBTQ+ people.

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