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May Day

May 1 is a world holiday, commemorating the execution of four anarchists executed in 1887 for struggling for an 8-hour workday:

Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.

In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge". The state had, in the words of the prosecution put "Anarchy is on trial" and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886.

Emphasis mine. Difficult to even imagine that many people demonstrating for anything today. But maybe that is the result of the many gains won in the time since those workers took matters in their hands. The tide has swung away from unions for the time being, but the gains and rights that were won by them - the 8-hour workday, child labor laws, health and safety regulations in the workplace - remain an important part of the everyday lives of millions of people. This aspect of our history is crucial - to see it as an ongoing story, one that will continue to be shaped by students, graduates and the faculty who acquaint them with the story of our ourselves and our society. You are part of it. Happy May Day.

Image: The Eiffel Tower under construction in 1887.

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