From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 36PETITION FROM LABOR GROUPS TO CLOSE CITY OFFICES ON MAY 1 TO OBSERVE AN EIGHT-HOUR DEMONSTRATION
April 19, 1891
The eight-hour workday had been a cause of organized labor since the 1860s. And in response to labor's agitation the state's general assembly had enacted a law in 1867 making eight hours a legal day's work. In reality this law had no real affect because it allowed individual contractors to avoid it by means of special agreements. During the depression of the seventies employment was hard to come by and the movement's support waned. Workingmen again embraced the cause in the eighties. The Haymarket Riot largely was associated with the eight-hour movement and the nation's reaction to the violence of that incident temporarily tarnished this labor objective. By the end of 1886 the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that statewide less the 10,000 workers had achieved the eight-hour day, six-day workweek. The movement continued into the nineties and then the next century. Labor unions offered several arguments in favor of reduced hours. By lessening the workday, available employment could be spread among larger numbers of honest workmen. Fewer hours would afford workingmen more time for intellectual pursuits. And a reasonable workday and workweek were deserved rewards for worthy labor.
Meeting in Paris in 1889 the first congress of the Second Socialist International selected the first of May as an annual day for international celebration of the central contributions of the working class. This holiday gained general acceptance in Europe. In this country Labor Day came to be observed on the first Monday in September. The U.S. Congress passed legislation to this effect in 1894.
The day after this petition was presented the council passed an order closing all departments of city government, excepting the fire and police departments, on May 1 as requested.
Points to Consider
Specify the occupations represented by the various organizations which signed this petition.
What did the petitioners mean by an "'Eight Hour' holiday and demonstration"?
What was the significance of May 1?
One of the petitioners was the American German Jewish Sections of the Socialist Labor Party. What does this tell you about the makeup of that political party?