In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions set May 1, 1886, as the date by which an eight-hour work day would become standard.  A strike at the McCormick plant was met with police violence, so several days later a labor demonstration convened to show support for these workers.  An unknown person threw a bomb into the crowd, and the ensuing chaos resulted in the deaths of at least four civilians and seven policemen and numerous injuries.  The trials and executions and commutations dragged on for many years.

More information about this so-called Haymarket Affair can be seen in a digital collection created by the Chicago Historical Society.  The web site includes interesting background about how the source materials were selected and digitized.

But back to May Day.  In 1890, leaders of the American Federation of Labor decided to designate May 1st as the day when workers would once again strike for an eight-hour work day.  Samuel Gompers got the support of international labor leaders in the first congress of the Second International, and May Day was born both as a means to unite international workers in their fight for shorter hours and as a way to honor those who had died at Haymarket and other labor protests.

I recently came across a list of books that was generated by the Department of Labor last year to celebrate its centennial.  They titled the initiative “Books That Shaped Work in America,” and the list itself makes for fascinating reading.  It spans everything from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to Mo Willems I’m a Frog.  Visitors to the site can recommend additional volumes to the list, and each book includes a brief description along with the name of its recommender.

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