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Journal 23 - Día del trabajador

May 1 , 2006

On May 1, 1886, labor unions in Chicago organized to protest excessive hours and unsafe working conditions.  Two days later, the police violently put down the strike, killing two and wounding others.  A rally followed, which also ended in violence, and policemen and civilians alike died in the confrontation.

May Day is celebrated internationally as a legal holiday commemorating the Chicago workers who died in the protest.  I remember how in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the working children’s organization I was with participated in a march on May 1st.  When we arrived at the center plaza, some of the organizers of the day’s events were calling out to remember the Chicago martyrs.  I didn’t remember hearing the story before and found it strange how other countries would commemorate protest victims in the U.S., while the U.S. chooses to celebrate Labor Day in September.

After looking into it a little, I learned that in 1887 President Cleveland wanted to distance the Labor Day holiday from the socialist and anarchist organizers in Chicago’s Haymarket riots.  It seems that in general, that decision successfully hid a tragedy that many other countries recognize as a symbol for the struggle for justice for working people.

Today I understand that the U.S. immigrant population has proposed a 24-hour strike to demonstrate the economic weight that immigrants carry in “a day without an immigrant.”  I’m not sure how many immigrants will feel like they can jeopardize their jobs for a change in national awareness or policy.  At the same time, I hope that whatever happens might happen peacefully and successfully encourage the nation to be less concerned about protecting the English national anthem and more concerned about economic and social justice.