EIGHT HOURS LABOR; EIGHT HOURS RECREATION; EIGHT HOURS FOR OURSELVES*
The public spaces in a city are witnesses of social developments. A lot of political processes and decisions can be seen and read stamped into these spaces. Numerous traces and stories are concealed in the streets and squares of a city. Historical incidences are indicated mostly little and only in fragments and thus the extent of the influence on our society and the course of events are hard to be detected. Helmut Heiss’ work 8 / 8 / 8 * produces a temporary performative space and invites his counterpart to look back more than 120 years to remember the day when the workers’ fight for their fundamental rights was indicted.
„Nothing reminds you of the Haymarket-drama in Chicago in 1886 with its incalculable consequences. There’s not even the smallest of a memorial stone to remember the events and the men that were commemorated and adored as martyrs of the workers’ movement even decades after. Nothing shows you that here May 1 was eked out as a workers’ holiday being celebrated almost all over the world, except in The United States.“ * *
On 9 June 2012 from 6 to 7 pm Helmut Heiss will have a prop airplane circle over the exact Haymarket massacre grounds with a bannerfly saying May 1, 1886. The artist creates an elusive and collective moment of perception. A moment that steers the narration to a historic and socio-political incident. At the same time it produces a moment of presence and opens and constitutes thought-space. By this Helmut Heiss also originates meaning-space that can be perceived ephemerically, really and physically. This picture will persist in the beholder’s head. It’s not about creating a defined and permanent reminder, but the beginning of a narration that can be continued and devised individually.
There are no truthful pictures and illustrations that describe the mass strikes and demonstrations around May 1, 1886 at Haymarket. The existing illustrations are subjective pictures influenced by the immediate investigation after the massacre in order not to convict the ones that should have been accused. The widest-spread illustration of the Haymarket affair shows the later death-sentenced anarchist Samuel Fielden who was said to have held a speech during the bomb explosion. But as a matter of fact riots and Fielden’s speech took place before the bombing. The public space at Haymarket in Chicago on May 9, 2012 will reproduce a picture and a memory of a historic event of fundamental and international consequences. The venues stay the same, but the moment of telling is 120 years time shift. The place is marked again as a political spot and the results of May 1, 1886 are negotiated newly.
I’ve only come across the following sentence lately: to bring up an issue means not to forget about it or to commemorate the people and the memories. Helmut Heiss’ work wants to create room and thought-space for history and hidden traces in our imminent urban environment.
* Already in 1856 workers in Melbourne demanded the „three eight“. In the following years the fight for the eight hours in The United States continued to the day when this postulation spread internationally: The day that has called attention to the workers’ rights ever since.
* * Marco D‘Eramo from „Das Schwein und der Wolkenkratzer“, (1996, Antje Kunstmann)
Text: Angelika Burtscher
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May 1 :
The history of the international Labor Day (1 May / May Day) has not been free of irony from the beginning. The origins of the fight day go back to the international workers’ movement in the United States, home country of capitalism. Although May 1 refers to the events in Chicago, the United States are among the few countries where Labor Day isn’t an official holiday. It’s an official holiday in over 80 countries and is celebrated in numerous other states around the world.
The origins of May 1 in Chicago were bloody: In 1886 the north American workers’ movement postulated the eight-hour day (12 hours were common so far) and called for a general strike. The unions chose the date because traditionally new work contracts were concluded on May 1 in the United States. By this they meant to focus on their postulation for shorter work days.
There were violent conflicts between protesters and police at Haymarket in Chicago after a workers’ assembly. The riot went down in US-history as the Haymarket Affair. Six strikers were shot. Violence escalated on May 4 when seven policemen were killed in a bomb attack. More than 200 workers were injured.
Four anarchistic work leaders were sentenced to death thereupon, in spite of lacking evidence. The bomb attack and the bloody incidences fanned fear of the ‚red danger’. The state of emergency lasted eight weeks in Chicago.
At the congress of foundation of the Second Internationale in Paris 1889 the socialist parties and unions from numerous countries would take the opportunity (triggered by the occurences in Chicago) to call May 1 ‚fight day of the workers’ movement’. Since then thousands of workers in multitudinous countries have demonstrated on that day for the rights of the workers.
The international workers’ movement also claimed May 1 to be introduced as an official holiday. It was mainly successful where social democrats or communists took office. May 1 was chiefly an important holiday in socialistic countries of the Eastern Bloc until 1989.
The shock over the bloody incidents was too deeply rooted in the United States. US-President Grover Cleveland feared (after the Haymarket-massacre) that celebrating Labor Day on 1 May could serve as a reminder of the riots. Thus in 1887 he supported the demand of the workers’ organizations to introduce Labor Day in politically less strained September.
It is celebrated in both the US and Canada on the first Monday in September to commemorate the workers’ protests in Canada in 1872. This strike likewise was also broken down at first but didn’t end as bloodily as in the US. After the brutal intervention of the police, the Canadian workers protested again against the arrests and the ‚union-unfriendly’ laws on 3 September 1872. They were successful: A new union law was passed the following year. From then on similar celebrations took place annually. The US-American Peter McGuire – co-founder of the American Federation of Labor – was invited as speaker among others. Back in the US McGuire and a labor organization held a similar parade in New York on September 5, 1882, referring to the occurences in Canada.
Canada’s Prime Minister John Thompson made Labor Day an official holiday already on July 23, 1894. It was introduced in the US, too, by US-President Grover Cleveland. Later tries to switch Labor Day to the international date May 1 didn’t succeed. Since the Russian Revolution 1917 the fear for the ‚red danger’ increased again. In 1921 1st WW-veterans and other groups tried to oppose the communists with an „Americanization Day“ on May 1. It was a yearly event. In 1949 – already under the threat of Cold War – the „Americanization Day“ was renamed as Loyalty Day. 1958 the US-congress pronounced Loyalty Day a national holiday on May 1. US-President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 to Law Day additionally.
Some unions kept trying to use the day for protests nevertheless. For example when thousands of workers demonstrated in New York Union Square on May 1 during the Great Depression in the 30ies. On May 1, 2006 immigrant groups, principally with a latino background, protested for a great American boycott against the immigration laws, a general strike of the illegal immigrant workers. The holiday of the workers’ movement was also politically instrumentalized in the rest of the world. So in socialistic countries May 1 was exploited propagandistically and celebrated big officially. In Germany though the lawful holiday goes back to National Socialism paradoxically. Hitler declared 1 May ‚Day of National Labor’ in 1933. On May 2, 1933 the Nazis broke up the free unions. In other fascistic dictatorships like Italy or Spain Labor Day was abolished during fascism.
In vast parts of the English-speaking world Labor Day established instead of International Workers’ Day, because it isn’t so much tied to a certain date, under reference to demonstrations, strikes or protests in the 19th century in the respective countries.
Special thanks to:
Amt für Kultur Bozen/Südtirol