International Workers’ Day popularly called May Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. The police were trying to disperse a public assembly during a general strike for the eight-hour workday, when an unidentified person threw a bomb at them. The police reacted by firing on the workers, killing four demonstrators. “Reliable witnesses testified that all the pistol flashes came from the center of the street, where the police were standing, and none from the crowd. Moreover, initial newspaper reports made no mention of firing by civilians. A telegraph pole at the scene was filled with bullet holes, all coming from the direction of the police.
In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891.
In many countries, the working class sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. May Day has long been a focal point for demostrations by various groups. In some circles,bonfires are lit in commemoration of the Haymarket martyrs, usually at dawn. May Day has been an important official holiday in countries such as Nigeria, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba and the former Soviet Union. May Day celebrations typically feature elaborate popular and military parades in these countries.