BOB GARFIELD This is On The Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Around the world, really nearly everywhere but the U.S., May the first is a big deal. It's called International Workers Day or May Day. Here in the U.S., It's called this coming Wednesday. Last year, it was observed in Moscow's Red Square with an orderly parade.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE In the Philippines, protesters burned President Rodrigo de territory an effigy. While in Paris, over 200 were arrested when anarchists crashed May Day rallies. On our shores, it was decidedly more quiet. Although thousands did march in Puerto Rico to protest austerity measures after altercations with police.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE But really you'd think the U.S. had very little to do with May Day. In fact, we created it. Donna Haverty–Stacke is a professor of history at Hunter College at the City University of New York. She's also the author of America's Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism 1867 to 1960. When we spoke to her last year, she began the story in 1886. Labor unions had been fighting for the eight hour workday for years and years but they'd only been winning battles city by city. They needed a new strategy.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE This was the era of the second industrial revolution, the rise of corporate capitalism, they needed to come together and so that was the goal for 1886.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Why did these labor unions, going for that big push, choose May 1st?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE For the building trades, May 1st was the date when the annual contracts were renewed. The goal was, they began organizing in 1884 making demands, hopefully they would succeed and they would celebrate on May 1st 1886. If they did not succeed, they held out the threat of striking on May 1st 1886–which in many cases happened. Once that date was chosen, the more traditional trade unionists and the anarchists and socialists who have a broader revolutionary goals also tap into the associations of May Day with the spring rights, with gathering flowers with bringing in the green.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Why did the spring rights have to do with labor?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Nothing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Haha.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Haha. But they use it in their iconography, in poetry and plays and things that become central to the annual anniversary.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So now it's May 1st 1886, 80,000 people march in Chicago, 30,000 Baltimore. How many in New York?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Thirty thousand in New York, St. Louis, Baltimore, Akron, Minneapolis, Milwaukee. All across the country workers came out. Union leaders giving speeches. And anarchists, Albert Parsons, and well-known anarchists in Chicago, was at the head of the march with his wife Lucy Parsons. They almost didn't participate because, initially, when they heard of this movement for the eight hour day they felt it was--.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Too small.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE --too small. Not what they really wanted which was revolution. But when they saw the momentum, they realized that's where the workers were. They needed to be out in front of it at the front of the parade.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But it's the anarchists that get even more closely associated with it. Even in our editorial meeting when we were discussing this someone raised the Haymarket affair that happened--.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE --a few days after May Day. You note that that association is a manipulation. It's purposefully wrong.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE It was a peaceful protest in Haymarket Square in Chicago organized by local anarchists in response to the police killings of six strikers on May 3rd. And initially, I think about 1000 people gathered. And as the evening wore on and that started to rain, their numbers dwindled down to about 300. One of the anarchists was speaking on a wagon and when the police came into the square to order the meeting to disband. There was concern that some of the speech may have been inflammatory. Someone threw a bomb into the square. The bomb killed one police officer immediately. Six other policemen died subsequently of their wounds, most likely from the bullets. The police began firing indiscriminately.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Eight anarchists were arrested and tried and convicted for conspiracy. Four of whom were executed, and they became martyrs to the anarchist cause.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So it was the anarchists that tried to link the two events.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE The anarchists conflated the two. Socialists embraced that as well because I think they shared a concern about the reactionary nature of the state. And if it were not won over by workers, workers would never find justice. There was sympathy and support for the anarchists in that moment. Samuel Gompers came out to their defense. He became the head of the American Federation of Labor in December 1886. But Gompers and the AFL and the craft unions that became affiliated with that quickly came to realize that the association with May 1st and Haymarket didn't necessarily help them advance their goals. Because they were attempting to get public support for the existence of unions. And so it was very easy for employers and more conservative Americans to smear the labor movement as illegitimate by associating it with the anarchists.
BROOKE GLADSTONE May Day itself seem to have become associated with red organizations, communism. Many might have guessed that the entire holiday was invented in Moscow.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Yes exactly. May 1st takes on an international component earlier than you might think. In 1889, when socialists are meeting in Paris, representatives from the AFL attended and spoke of May 1st 1886. Even though it didn't secure the eight hour day forever, the struggle continued. Pulling workers together in a united demand was appealing to the socialists in Europe and they said, 'you know what, starting in 1890 we're gonna do the same thing.' And European socialists began to use May Day, May 1st for their labor demand.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And so it continues to this day. Unlike here.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Exactly. By 1903, the AFL doesn't want to go near May Day with a ten foot pole. It's been urging its members to turn out instead on the September Labor Day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So what's the difference between May Day and Labor Day?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Well May Day was becoming known as International Workers Day in the 1890s. Labor Day began in 1882. Here in New York launched by Matthew Maguire who was a machinist and a socialist from Brooklyn who had a very radical vision.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So it was a precursor--.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE --to May Day.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Yes. And had nothing to do with the eight hour day. It had, in essence, a more broader utopian vision. He starts out radical but the AFL rises and it takes over this event and shapes it to suit its own goals.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But how did its message differ from May Day?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE The AFL termed Labor Day, Labor's National Day. There was very much an emphasis on the national connection. That these workers who turned out on Labor Day were patriotic, were American. And it becomes part of the the AFL distancing itself from May Day which was becoming known as International Workers Day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There's another holiday that we roundly ignore that is marked on May 1st. That's Loyalty Day.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Loyalty day emerges post-World War II. May 1st is chosen specifically to counter any attempts to revive radical May Day demonstrations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars took the lead. They were supported by different fraternal organizations, the Catholic Church, John Birch Society. And spoke in the newspaper coverage of how they were seeking to walk the Communists off the streets. They worked with city officials to have the supporters of loyalty to get the parade permits and so loyalty day becomes a part of the way in which the history of May Day in the United States is forgotten. It's a part of the story of this construction of a Cold War Americanism.
BROOKE GLADSTONE How long does it last?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE By the mid 50s the Communist Party and the Left led unions dwindled due to the prosecution of the Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act. In 1949--.
BROOKE GLADSTONE They didn't take to the streets. So there was no need to counter them.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Right. And the work the workers in the left led unions really struggled with this. I have really dramatic accounts of workers in District 65, here in New York, which was a union that was left led and had ties to the Communist Party. And--.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What did they do?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Retail, wholesale and warehouse workers. And there's a really moving account. In 1946, District 65 workers were holding a meeting and they were debating, you know, 'can we continue to support these May Day parade?' You know, the union was facing pressures on all sides to purge its ranks of communists. But one worker said at this meeting, 'most Labor people know that May Day started in America. Therefore, I think that we should study more about these May Day parades and labor history and make sure that we know before we can accuse ourselves and our labor of following some foreign ideology or stuff like that. I think that May Day is our day and we have to point out to the wealthy people in America that we are united and we will stop them from exploiting us.' And so there was real passion. I mean, these workers had that memory and they hadn't lost it yet in the late forties.
BROOKE GLADSTONE If we go back to the 1880s, really just after the Civil War maybe, there was the struggle to define what it means to be American.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What it means to be loyal and what it means to be patriotic.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE Yes. May Day existed in that context from the very beginning. Some of them were navigating a hybrid, radical American identity. They didn't want to cede control over what the stars and stripes meant to opponents of organized labor. They'd staunchly defended their right to carry the American flag with their red flags. The Socialist Labor Party members in New York in the 1890, passing resolutions that they were going to carry the American flag into Union Square to claim that flag in an era where, in 1893, Flag Day becomes a holiday. The Pledge of Allegiance attempts in public schools to assimilate children of immigrants. Anxiety over 25 million immigrants coming to the United States between 1865 and nineteen twenty. These workers in these radicals are smack in the middle of that story because they are mostly immigrants.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You were talking about the Socialist Party in New York. Morris Hillquit was the leader of the Socialist Party at the time.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE He wrote an editorial that was published in The Call, the Socialist Party newspaper, responding to criticisms launched at the Socialist Party. Critics who said, 'how dare, they how dare those socialist carry the stars and stripes alongside the red flag. The red flag is the flag of bloodshed and violence.' And Hillquit retorted, 'the red flag is the flag of brotherhood and that we have a right to carry the Stars and Stripes. And those who are criticizing us who long pawns the stars to the trusts and monopolies and their stripes were the stripes of prison garb. And the black flag of the pirate was a more appropriate emblem for them.' They're carrying the American flag didn't mean they were subscribing to the more mainstream notion of the flag as an unquestioned loyalty to the country. They were carrying it with the goal of trying to make America be true to itself. Their understanding of what that meant that the revolution of 1776 needed to be extended into the economic sphere. They actually felt a duty and a way to carry the flag.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When we talk about this perpetual perennial argument over what is patriotism, Aaron Copland, our quintessential American composer was wrestling with the issue of patriotism all the time–theme for the common man. He even wrote a song called "Into the Streets on May 1st." So could you see the tug of war over May 1st, whether it's a loyalty day or a day for labor, a tug of war over America's identity?
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: I do think you're right. May Day became a bit of a lightning rod around this central issue of who has a right to consider themselves American and who has a right to define what that means. And I'd say in my book that you know these workers who wanted to carry both the American flag and the red flag, they didn't need the Daughters of the American Revolution telling them what that flag meant. They took it up themselves and they gave it meaning that they wanted in the streets on May Day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Donna, thank you very much.
DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Donna Haverty-Stacke is author of the book America's Forgotten Holiday: May Day and Nationalism 1867 to 1960.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now you may have heard us mention Aaron Copland's "Into The Streets May First." When our producer and WNYC is archivists went hunting for it to use in the segment, they came up empty. It seems it has never been professionally recorded since it was first published in the 1935 workers songbook. And in a moment you'll hear why. It invokes hammers and sickles and also it's really hard to sing. But we decided to record it ourselves with the able assistance of our own producer Jon Hanrahan and WNYC engineer Irene Trudel. Thanks also to Karen film and and Jim O'Grady who lent their voices to our chorus. And without further ado we present "Into The Streets May First.".
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BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On The Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan and Asthaa Chaturverdi. We had more help from Xandra Ellin and Sherina Ong. This is Sherina's last week with us. Thank you very much. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week with Sam Bair and Josh Han.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer, Jim Schachter is WNYC he's vice president for news. On The Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.
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