May 1 - Loyalty Day? - in the USA? - (Yikes!)

Posted on May 1, 2020

There are worldwide efforts to recognize and honor workers, today - May 1 is celebrated as Labor Day / Labour Day / Workers' Day pretty much everywhere in the world except the United States. Which is pretty ironic since the choice of May 1 as a day to focus on workers' rights is based on an event in the U. S.!

The Haymarket Affair occurred in Chicago in 1886. 

On May 1, about 300,000 to 500,000 workers across the United States went on strike and held peaceful demonstrations in an effort to achieve 8-hour workdays. (The AVERAGE workweek for American workers, at the time, was a bit over 60 hours a week, which equals about 10 hours a day for six days a week. And that was the average; some workers had even more hours than that.) 

Chicago was the center of the 8-hour-day effort, and tens of thousands of workers went on strike. The demonstrations held all over the city, including a march of 10,000 lumber workers, totaled as many as 80,000 workers.

However, there were people hired by various companies to work as strikebreakers, and there were police out in force to patrol the demonstrations and protect the strikebreakers. Although the workers were mostly peaceful, there was some verbal harassment of the strikebreakers. 

On May 3, at a McCorkmick Harvesting Machine Company factory, union leaders urged striking workers to stay calm, but when strikebreakers left the factory at the end of the day, and workers surged forward to yell at them, police fired on the crowd! Two to six workers were killed (reports vary).

Of course, this police violence made the workers really angry, and on May 4 a rally was held at Haymarket Square. Someone thought it was a good idea to call for revenge and even to call on workers to arm themselves, and a bunch of fliers printed up had those sentiments...but saner heads knew that worker militancy would result in a bloodbath. The "revenge" fliers were mostly destroyed, and new fliers were printed without the call to arms.

So, more than 20,000 peaceful fliers were distributed, and less than 200 of the original fliers, which started "Revenge! Workingmen, to Arms!!!" remained somewhere about.

There were a variety of speakers, and the rally was entirely peaceful, until 10:30 at night, when a large group of police officers arrived and ordered the peaceful demonstrators to leave.

And, oh, dear, some folks HAD come "armed," and someone tossed a homemade bomb at the police, and one police officer died immediately and more were injured. As you can imagine, that bit of violence resulted in a whole lot more violence - the police shooting at fleeing workers, and perhaps some workers shooting back at the police. Within five minutes Haymarket Square was empty - except for the dead and wounded. 

Altogether, 4 workers were killed and about 70 workers were wounded. The bomb killed 7 police officers, and around 60 police officers were wounded. 

The Haymarket Affair, as I said, has been important worldwide as May 1 was selected to be the date of International Workers' Day. But in the United States, May Day being Workers' Day was conflated by many with communism. And for a while there, communism was the big bad boogeyman that Americans were urged to fear.

In 1921, some folks in the U.S. tried to replace Workers' Day with a holiday called Americanization Day. Later, after World War II, propaganda against communism resulted in what is called a Red Scare; in 1955 the U.S. Congress enacted an official holiday on May 1 called Loyalty Day.

Loyalty Day is supposed to be "for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom." Which seems okay to one part of my brain...but the other part says, "yikes!"

Parades, ceremonies at schools, flag raising at government buildings - those things are all fine. But I would rather see the U.S. government be "loyal" to the American people, enacting laws that help and protect them, rather than the government urging people to be loyal to "the country." After all, what is "the country" other than the people?

Is the country the government? If Americans have a competent and ethical government that passes laws that are widely popular - such as sensible gun laws with universal background checks, for example, and strong health care laws with a public option - then Americans will be largely loyal to their government.  

Is the country the land, its resources, and the various waterways of the United States? The land, air, and water also need "loyalty" from the government, with a return to sensible and science-based policies and laws that protect them - and therefore all of us! 

Is the country the Constitution? The other democratic institutions and freedoms? These foundations of the U.S. have seemed strong to me, in the past, but recent events have showed everything from the judiciary to the post office facing attacks, being defunded or dismantled, and being corrupted by power grabs and money-making schemes. We need the government to once again be loyal to the ideals and structures of the Constitution.

There has never been a better time for Americans to work together to protect the American people, the land and air and water, and the democratic institutions of the U.S. But I am not sure the word "loyalty" best describes what should be discussed and practiced....

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