Historical significance of the 1st of May in Cuba
2011.02.07 - 12:07:46 / email@example.com / Pedro A. Fanego Sea
The International Workers’ Day is a tradition in the world and Cuba that has lasted more than a hundred years.
Its origin is linked to the struggle for a working day of eight hours in a time when the double was not unusual. It was meant to snatch from the exploiters the possibility to have 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for workers education, as a means to continue advancing toward new economic, political and cultural goals.
It was born out of the agreement adopted in 1884 by a US labor organization, called American Federation of Labor (AFL in English) after December 1886. They decided to gradually step up mobilizations for the above-mentioned demand until the first day of May 1886. Then a great strike accompanied the rallies to demand its widespread implementation.
Chicago is one of the most important industrial cities of that country. There was a high degree of organization and propaganda carried out by many European migrant workers. In those days, the European labor and union movement was much more advanced. They had their own press and leaders capable of achieving the outlined objective. It was also a city with a very corrupt government, linked to organized crime, and headquarters of the famous “Pinkerton” agency of private detectives. The latter protected the interests of big business and had no qualms to resort to repression, provocation and the use of strikebreakers against the workers.
A great campaign of bourgeoisie newspapers created a prejudiced opinion about the subversive intentions of the labor preparations. When massive rallies took place in Chicago and other points of the country, slogans were launched to promote rejection against the fair demand of 8 working hours.
By Monday May 3, a large factory in the city fired the workers involved in the strike and the rallies by using strikebreakers. It became the scenario of a police attack against the pickets that had surrounded the place, which killed 6 workers.
A rally was convened for the following day, to protest for the outrage in a strong, but peaceful way.
The next day, 15 000 men and women gathered in a square where the speakers denounced the crime and called on the continuation of the struggle for the workers’ demands. In the evening, when the meeting was close to the end, 180 policemen showed up and ordered the participants to scatter. As they closed in the crowd, a bomb was thrown by a hand that remains unknown to these days. It fell in the front ranks of the police forces, killing one of the troopers and seriously hurting another. The other members of the armed body retaliated ferociously, shooting and clubbing several workers to death and wounding many.
Soon after, an arrest warrant was issued against 8 men that were allegedly guilty of the attack (some of which were not even in the vicinity), including the main labor leaders and propagandists of the city.
In the meantime, a repressive wave was unleashed in the rest of the country against the union movement and its supporters.
In a convoluted judicial process, full of irregularities, seven defendants were condemned to death - although two had their penalties commuted to life imprisonment - and one was sentenced to 15 years.
One day before the execution, Louis Lingg died in jail, where he allegedly killed himself with a bomb.
Albert Parsons, August Spies, Georg Engel and Adolph Fischer were hung to death in November 10 1887.
In 1893, those who were still in prison were released, when their trial was annulled for lack of evidence.
Jose Marti, our National Hero, closely followed these dramatic events. In his chronicles for the Argentinean newspaper “La Nacion”, he sympathized with the workers’ cause. When the crime against the four martyrs was perpetrated, he publicly attested against the injustice and illegality. His testimony is an essential part of the Apostle's ideological legacy, since the beginning when he did not have accurate information. He would eventually add his voice to the critics of the vices of US society, exposed by these developments. He always expressed his solidarity with the workers’ cause.
In Cuba, the labor newspaper “El Productor”, directed by Enrique Roig San Martin, disseminated the events among the workers of the country. Its ideas were kindred to the prosecuted leaders and activists. Therefore, he promoted a wide campaign in solidarity with them and their relatives.
The Circle of Havana Workers reacted in the same way, building awareness in favor of the convicts as it organized the first Cuban labor congress, held in 1887.
In 1889, the Second International Labor Congress, held in Paris, France, convened a coordinated action of the workers of the world on the first of May of the following year (1890). They seconded the announcement of US delegates that they commemorate the rallies of 1886 to demand 8 working hours and other rights. In Cuba, the path was already paved to be one of the countries that joined the commemoration.
The summons was made in late April and in spite of the deep concern of the Spanish colonial authorities, more than 3 000 workers paraded that day from Plaza de Marte (today’s Fraternity Park) along the streets Monte, Galiano, San Rafael and Consulado. When they reached Virtudes, they carried out a meeting with around 15 speakers that started the tradition of the International Workers’ Day.
The speakers were not only from Havana. They all voiced their demands and accusations strongly but peacefully, because of the wide mobilization of colonial repressive forces.
In Latin America, Argentina was the other country that also responded to the call and organized a rally that year. The leading role was played there by the large migration from several European countries. In the meeting held in Buenos Aires that first of May of 1890 speeches were made in four languages. It started a new stage of development in the union movement of that South American nation.
The following year, 1891, the rally was repeated in some countries. In Cuba, an activity took place at Theater Irijoa –later Theater Marti - in the corner of Dragones and Zulueta. Another activity took place in the city of Camagüey. Ever since, one way or another, the First of May has been part of the workers' domestic and international struggles.
In the XX century, the width and depth of the celebration of the First of May increased in Cuba and many countries of the world. However, in the United States, where the commemoration was born, it has been dropped because of its strong ideological content and replaced by the first Monday of September as the Labor Day.