By Julie R Butler
Día del Trabajo on 1 May is the day when workers in Mexico and many other place°s around the world celebrate the rights of workers and the struggle to gain rights and protections that began in the second half of the 19th century and continues today.
How May Day Became International Day of the Worker
Soon after the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, unionized workers in industrial centers such as Baltimore and New York began fighting for the eight-hour workday. And in 1884, a resolution was introduced at the annual convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, forever connecting the day of 1 May with the labor movement:
“Resolved ... that eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labor organizations throughout this district that they so direct their laws so as to conform to this resolution by the time named.”
On the designated date, workers across the nation began a general strike that was accompanied by rallies in support of the eight-hour workday. But events at Haymarket Square, in Chicago, took a violent turn when clashes between security forces and civilians left many dead. However, despite an anti-union clampdown and the kangaroo-court trial of suspected radicals, the labor movement in the United States grew and strengthened.
In July 1889, at the International Socialist Congress’ founding meeting of the Second International in Paris, May Day was officially designated as International Workers’ Day in commemoration of the Haymarket affair. The first of May became a day dedicated to the struggle for the eight-hour workday as well as for other workers’ rights, such as safe working conditions, workers’ compensation, and putting an end to child labor.
Today, workers’ rights are celebrated in many countries on 1 May, including all of Latin America, but not in the United States, which has Labor Day on the first Monday in September every year.
Día del Trabajo in Mexico
Mexico’s first workers’ parade was held on 1 May, 1913, with more than 25,000 workers taking to the streets. Today, 1 May is a federal holiday. Parades, rallies, and demonstrations take place throughout the country, often drawing large crowds.
La Huelga de Cananea
In addition to showing solidarity with workers demanding their rights across the globe and celebrating the hard-won workers’ rights and protections now instituted into Mexican law, Día del Trabajo in Mexico also commemorates la Huelga de Cananea of 1906. When the Mexican workers employed in the Cananea, Sonora, copper mines went on strike and rallied to protest deplorable conditions and being paid less than workers who were U.S. citizens, chaos broke out, as the miners from each country fought each other and both Mexican and U.S. troops were brought in to quell the tumult. The event is memorialized in the corrido La cárcel de Cananea.