May Day Holiday: Why Doesn't the U.S. Celebrate It?


Today marks May 1, and what may appear as just another typical day in the year for many Americans actually has some major significance. Several countries recognize the day as International Workers' Day or what others have coined as "May Day." Ironically enough, those who celebrate commemorate its origins in the U.S. Why doesn't the U.S. participate, however? The exact answer has yet to be determined, but more Americans should be educated on the day’s important history.

To get a better appreciation for the importance of May Day, an examination must be made of its roots. On May 3, 1886, over 2,000 protestors stood in front of a McCormick plant in Chicago, expressing grievances about unjust work hours. Several protestors were killed, prompting a follow-up rally the next evening.

Crowds of union workers gathered in Chicago's Haymarket square, when an unknown person threw a bomb, killing an estimated seven police officers, four protesters, and injuring upwards of 60 additional officers.

In the aftermath of the violence, eight men were believed to be linked to the bombings and seven of which eventually received death penalty sentences. However, this sparked outrage in Chicago workers organizations, who realized that some of the men charged were not even present at the rally. In 1893 Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld recognized this injustice and pardoned three defendants accused of causing the Haymarket Massacre, deeming them innocent. In 1890, a Paris conference of the Second International, a gathering for Marxist leaders, declared that May 1 would be a day reserved for celebration to commemorate workers' rights.

Several European countries observe May Day as a holiday, but how come the U.S. doesn't participate? Through the decades, May Day has developed negative connotations as an anarchist and communist movement. However, the Haymarket Massacre established the foundations of an eight-hour work day that the workers were fighting for. The mission encompassing this day has been neglected by American culture and should be better recognized by the federal government, especially since its inception occurred on American soil.