Labor Day’s Protofascist History

The Haymarket Massacre

The Haymarket Massacre

On May 1, 1886 the mighty gears of American industry ground to a halt when tens of thousands of workers protested across the country demanding an eight hour workday. Not surprisingly, the police suppressed these peaceful protests violently – particularly in Chicago, where police inflicted days of beatings and random shootings on the laborers.

By the time things settled down, six unarmed workers were murdered by American police and enraged Chicagoans occupied Haymarket Square. Of course, the police rushed violently into the crowd when someone (whose identity was never revealed) detonated a bomb that killed a police officer. The police opened fire in the crowd and by nightfall a dozen more people – police and protestors alike – were dead.

The reaction to these bloody battles between American police and the labor movement was martial law, rounding up of labor leaders to be tried and convicted of murder, and a general crackdown on workers demonstrating for more humane conditions throughout the “land of the free.”

The Pullman Massacre

The Pullman Massacre

Similarly bloody protests arose in early May of 1894 during the Pullman Railroad Strike, with at least 24 people killed. Then-president Grover Cleveland, along with congress, wanted to quell these protests, so they quickly rushed through a public holiday for workers with the hope of quieting protests and building support among the American proletariat for the state.

A natural choice for the date of the holiday would be May 1st, already established as International Workers Day around the Western world, but Cleveland was conscious of the bloody events of the Haymarket affair and didn’t want to encourage future protests among workers. Thus he chose the much more neutral first Monday of each September for Labor Day.

Cleveland and his colleagues were architecting this holiday to pacify American labor in the last years of the 19th century. It would be decades before Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini would codify the tenets of fascism, but I identify this move as a clear example of American-grown proto-fascism, as the American government at this time not only brutally suppressed labor movements but also attempted to broker harmony between the capitalist and working classes while preserving capitalist power structures through the program of propaganda and state interventionism known as Labor Day.

If you found this article interesting, you might want to check out my more in-depth explanation of fascist socionomics here.

2 Responses to “Labor Day’s Protofascist History

  • Eugene Debs, Probably
    6 years ago

    What a bunch of garbage. This is completely rewriting history. Labor Day pre-dates the Haymarket Massacre by half a decade and was selected by both the American Federation of Labor /and/ the Knights of Labor as America’s day to celebrate the working class.

    It’s pretty fucking absurd to claim the state’s later adoption of it as an overt move toward fascism. Be careful not to give yourself a hernia stretching that far.

    • Emerican Johnson
      6 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback, Eugene, probably. If you’re referring to the International Worker’s Day of May 1st, you’re right. As I mentioned, it did exist well before the Haymarket Massacre. The American Labor Day holiday and the date of September 4th were selected by Grover Cleveland and the American congress in 1894. It was very much a conscious decision to not have the American version of the holiday on May 1st to avoid associating the day with the Haymarket affair.

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