Turkish activists set to recall Labor Day's dark history

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

As many countries, trade unions and left-wing parties prepare to mark Labor Day tomorrow, AA examines the historical roots of an official celebration which has its origins in struggle and conflict

As many countries, trade unions and left-wing parties prepare to mark Labor Day tomorrow, AA examines the historical roots of an official celebration which has its origins in struggle and conflict

IZMIR - May 1 has become a focal point of the political calendar for many groups and around 80 countries mark the occasion as an official holiday but Labor Day - also known as International Workers' Day – has its roots in a bitter 1886 struggle between U.S. labor unions and the government.

On May 4 that year the American Federation of Labor staged a protest in Chicago, Illinois attracting more than 500,000 workers, demonstrating for an eight-hour day.

It began as a peaceful rally but as police moved to disperse the meeting an unknown person threw a bomb. The resulting blast and ensuing gunfire killed seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

The 'Haymarket affair' came amid a backdrop of increasingly violence labour disputes between workers and strikebreakers in the area.

Hundreds of workers were arrested following the deadly attack and eight anarchist labor activists were arrested on murder charges; four were later hanged after a controversial trial.

Three years later, at the suggestion of U.S. trade unions, a congress of the Second International held in Paris adopted May 1 as a day of international solidarity with workers' struggles across the world.

- Labor Day in Turkey

The first Labor Day was celebrated in Turkey in 1921 after a call from Turkey's Socialist Party and workers in Istanbul took a holiday on the first of May. In Ankara the day was first celebrated in 1922. 

A nationwide celebration took place under the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey in Istanbul in 1975.

In 1977, some 500,000 people gathered in the city's Taksim Square to celebrate. As unidentified gunmen fired on the crowd, riots and fighting ensued, leaving 36 people dead.

May 1 celebrations were banned following a military coup staged on September 12, 1980; May 1 activities were held as saloon meetings from 1985. 

In 2009, the previously banned day was declared as an official holiday – the 'Day of Labor and Solidarity'.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency