In today’s edition of Il caffe’ di oggi we will explore the origins of the Italian national holiday, La festa del lavoro. This International Workers Day or May Day is celebrated on May 1st in Italy as well as in over ninety countries around the world. The foundation of this holiday is American however it is not celebrated in the United States.
In 1886 many industrial cities across the U.S. were the sites of general strikes to push for the national workday to last eight hours. At that time, a typical work day could be twelve to sixteen hours long. Haymarket Square in Downtown Chicago was one of the centers for the workers movement and also for this strike beginning on May 1st. The local marchers' slogan was, "Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will."
The Haymarket strike escalated into a protest and continued for several days thereafter. On May 3rd and 4th protesters clashed with police leaving individuals dead and wounded on both sides. Eight protesters were unjustly arrested and charged with life imprisonment or death. These workers came to be known as the “Haymarket Martyrs”. Today in Chicago you can find the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument dedicated to this historical event.
Although the United States never embraced this holiday, many countries around the world have chosen to adopt it. For them, this day represents the workers struggle against a higher authority, and their aspirations for fair and equitable work rules. Under normal circumstances, the day is celebrated with parades, demonstrations, and even some strikes. In Italy, the city of Rome would usually host one of Italy’s largest concerts in Piazza San Giovanni on May Day. Today however, the square will be empty and the concert featuring many musical guests will be offered only on television.
Please click the button below for a short video on the origins of May Day.
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