The Origin on May Day and Why The US Chooses To Celebrate It In September

By Darlene Fuchs on Email


Labor Day, or sometimes referred to as May Day or May First, is celebrated on the 1st of May in over 80 counties, including Germany, but we’ve often wondered why the US chooses not to use this worldwide date?

May Day originated in North America as a rebellious spirit, spurred on by the Knights of Labor, spread throughout the US with workers striking to secure an 8-hour work day or a day appreciably reducing the hours of labor.  Some of the most aggressive of these strikes happened in the city of Chicago. On May 1st, 1886, there was a large labor movement of the American middle class, demanding an 8-hour work day.

A demonstration held on May 4th at Haymarket Square, in Chicago, was a protest against the brutal police attack that occured during a strikers meeting at the McCormick Reaper Works the day before, where six workers were killed and numerous others wounded. At the protest rally the violence escalated again when police stormed the peaceful assembly. A bomb was thrown and in the end seven policemen and four workers were dead along with hundreds wounded.

Three years later, labor representatives from the US had participated in the International Labor Congress in Paris in 1889, and as a result of that meeting, May 1, 1890 was chosen as International Labor Day.

In the US however, Labor Day, the official day for workers, is instead observed on the first Monday in September. May 1st was widely observed in socialist and communist countries, which is one reason the US chose not to observe Labor Day with the rest of the world on that date.

Also, after the Haymarket Massacre, United States President Grover Cleveland did not want May 1st to commemorate this tragic event, so in 1887 he supported the Labor Day that the Knights of Labor established. In 1894, the September date was chosen as the official Labor Day across the US.

In Germany, there were also labor clashes. In 1929, in Berlin, the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) banned workers’ demonstrations. However the Kommunistische Partie (KPD) called for demonstrations anyways. The confrontation, later called, “Blutmai” (Bloody May), resulted in 32 dead and over 80 seriously injured. In Germany, “Der Erste Mai”  also became know as “Tag der Arbeit” (The Day of Work).

Over the years the mass demonstrations in Germany and the US have turned into family picnics celebrating the end of summer. Parades, along with speeches by politicians, make the day one of social importance rather than the problems of the labor force.


Photo by Awaya Legends

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Darlene Fuchs