May, first Its origin, its meaning, its fights – chapters 5 and 6

08 jun 2016 . 14:15

Chapter 5

The decision

Overcome the years that followed to the defeat of the Commune of Paris, the proletariat in almost all Europe starts to rebuild creating several parties and developing a constant fight which even come to the huge Russian Czarist Empire. Simultaneously it is verified an overcome of the corporativism in the old workers’ sectors; there is progress in culture and in the workers’ consciousness. The movement makes itself more political and alternative for the bourgeois system and the Marxism penetrates deeply in the social body, making itself the most representative chain. All this leap of quality demands a new way of internationalist association. Engels will be the motor which will add a conjunct of forces which make it possible (Marx was already dead in 1883).

In the centenary of the beginning of the French Revolution, in July fourteen 1889, it gathers in Paris a worker’s congress of Marxist tendency. Three hundred ninety delegates are present: two hundred and twenty French, eighty and one German, twenty-two English, fourteen Belgian, eight Austrian, six Russian, besides Dutchmen, Danes, Swedes, Norwegian, Swiss, Polish, Romanian, Italians, Hungarians, Spanish, Portuguese, beyond North-American, Finnish and Argentine watchers. The delegates represented about three million workers. This congress gets history as the one of the foundation of the Second International.

After a week of debates, the Saturday, July twenty, is the last day of the congress, and the delegates should vote the conclusive resolutions. In the afternoon, in a terrible heat – with the participants in a crowded room, huddled in the corners to get away of the morose which filters from the glasses of the ceiling -, the Belgian Raymond Lavigne forwards to the table a proposal. The president of shift, Émile Vanderveld, makes the reading:

“It will be organized a big international demonstration with fixed date, in order that in all the countries and cities, at the same time, the workers impose to the public powers the legal workload reduction to eight hours and the application of the other resolutions of the International Congress of Paris.

Considering that a similar demonstration had already been scheduled for the May First of 1890, by the American Federation of Labor, in the congress of December of 1888, which unfolded to Saint Louis, such date is adopted for the international demonstration.

The workers of the several nations should make demonstrations in the conditions which will be imposed by the specific situation of their countries”.

This proposal is approved by acclamation. The resolution leads to each country the choose of the best attitude to adopt in function of the diversity of conditions in which they act. Besides, the deliberation predicts that the protest shall be only for the year of 1890, without the pretention of repeating this event in the future years. Surely the men and women there gathered still cannot imagine the huge development that this project will have, approved with many others.

The preparation is not a simple thing; the doubts of the possibility of a combat this way vast sum to objective difficulties: existent divisions in the movement, extremely different situations, repression etc. However, all the socialists’ militants and workers get available with spirit of fight and sacrifice, to transform the May First of 1890 in something dignified of note in History.

In this same day, it is released one more edition of the Communist Manifest, in German language, and in the preface Engels writes:

“Proletarian all over the world, unite! Only few voices answered when, more than forty years ago, we released for the world this shout on the eve of the first revolution of Paris, in which the proletariat advanced with own claims. However, at 28 of September of 1864 the proletarians of the biggest part of the countries of the Western Europe united in the International Association of Workers, of glorious memory. The International, it is true, did not live more than nine years. However, the better prove that the eternal union it released among proletarian of all countries is still alive and stronger than ever is the today workload. In this moment, while I write these lines, the American and European proletariat parade its forces, for the first time mobilized as only one army, with one only banner and for only one immediate objective: the achievement of the law of the normal workload of eight hours, already proclaimed in the congress of the International in Geneva, in 1866, and after, for the second time, in the workers’ congress of Paris, in 1889. The spectacle of this day will show clearly to the capitalists and land owners of all the countries that the proletariat of all countries are really united.

If only Marx were with me to see this spectacle with his own eyes!”

An important happening propitious great mood to the militants of all parts. At the February 20 of 1890, take place elections for the parliament of the German Empire, and the Social Democratic Party, affiliated to the International, obtained surprising voting, taking the first place. After this, all the observers focused to know how it would be the May First in Germanic lands. The social democratic, fearful of provocations that could give weapons to the government, made a very cautious appeal: “The German proletariat will celebrate the May First! This objective is going to be completely reached with workers’ meetings, with parties and demonstrations in which the decisions will be taken with the masses, in the line of the Congress of Paris. Where the May First could suspend the work without creating conflict, suspend it…”

As we see, the insistence is for it only take place acts which have ample consensus and that the strikes shall be made only if there is no conflict – actually practically impossible thing in the reality of Germany then. Another fact to notice is the determination of making parties, thereby, since the beginning it appears this concept of celebration linked to the May First and which so many discussions it will bring posteriorly.

By the way talking about parties, it is need to remember another coincidence. The May First among the antique Romans was the solemnity of the goddess Flora and Maia, thereby, the happy moments of the flowers and cereals and the announcement of Spring. It was a day when they suspended even the work of the slaves. This tradition of joy and contact with nature which reappears substitute in all Middle Age, mainly among farmers. We cannot forget that the biggest part of the workers’ class which was forming had its origins in the field and brought in itself many of the more ingrained mores of their ancestors. Maybe it explains why since the beginning this day of fight have been linked to the concept of party of labor.

The forces of the reaction

The reaction of the German business community and government is rough. They threaten to dismiss in mass those who paralyze the production and close the factories for fifteen days, do not paying the wages. Despite these intimidations and certain coldness of the Social Democratic party, the demonstrations and strikes are considerable all over the country. Few and localized conflicts occur, however thousands lose their jobs. It opens a long period of fights for the defense of the dismissed. The attack of the reaction is at last contained and the political and syndical movement of workers come out strengthen.

In England, crib of the industrial revolution, there is a lot of division, and the danger of the failure of the demonstration is big. Several workers’ organizations are controlled by moderate tendencies, which aim to avoid at all cost any radicalization. To achieve the biggest number possible of participants, the combative sectors, led by Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling, agree in changing the date of the May First, which will be in a Thursday, to Sunday, four.

Overcome the inconveniences, the concentration takes place in the Hyde Park of London – and it will be a success. Let us see how Engels comments the happenings in letter sent in the day nine of this same month to the German socialist leader August Babel: “The concentration in the May four was truly gigantic, and all the bourgeois press will be obliged to admit. I was in the tribune number four (a big carriage) and could only see one part – a fifth or an eighth of the crowd, but until my eyes seen there was a sea of heads. Among two hundred and fifth and three hundred thousand people, from which three fourths were workers”. In other letter to Laura Marx, he writes: “I may guarantee that, when going down of that old and heavy car which served as tribune, it seemed that I had increases my size, because for the first time after forty years I felt again the inimitable voice of the English proletariat.

The May First was celebrated in many other nations. In France, it occurred under state of siege and with terror, of the part of Republic, fearful that a new Commune installed again. In the vast dominium of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it multiplies the workers’ expressions, standing out the march of Vienna, with one hundred fifty thousand participants. Without serious incidents, it is verified meetings, assemblies, marches and parties also in Switzerland, in Belgium, in Sweden, in Norway, in Denmark and in Portugal. It occurs very strong tensions in Italy. In the Russian Empire, the repression manages to block any act, with exception of Warsaw (which, at that time, was part of the Russian State). In Spain, the commemoration is made by united anarchists and socialists. There are protests repressed in Algiers (Algeria) and Tunis (Tunisia), although only by Europeans who release the base of the May First in another continent.

There are only three the countries of Latin America to join to the movement. Argentina, where, with strong divisions between anarchists and socialists, several assemblies take place. The capital of Mexico, where it develops a big demonstration of Mexicans and European emigres. And the most important, in Havana, capital of Cuba, which was still Spanish colony. After a parade, which has origin at the Field of Mars and moves until the center of the city, it takes place a rally in which fifteen speakers speech, the majority of anarchist position. They ask for the eight hours and criticizes the discrimination suffered by the black worker.

In the United States, the movement makes several activities, but with a lot of disunity, because the biggest part of the trade unions has still corporative character contrary to socialism. Therefore, the followers of the International make their acts apart. This weakens the date of the May First in the USA, which practically will not be commemorated anymore by the majority of the trade unions which prefer to another which persists until nowadays. It is the Labor Day, in the first Monday of September. It is sad that a unionism with so high spirit of sacrifice and fight had not followed the majority of workers of the planet.

The First of May of 1890 has the meaning of huge success of the internationalist spirit and reinforce of the workers fights in all the parts. Enthusiastic with the success reached, several socialist parties and unions propose that the demonstrations may repeat one more time next year. The Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party, in the encounter of August of 1890, decides: “In all the May First of the world the party will organize demonstrations to complain from the public powers the legislation protector of work, made in the congress of Paris”.

This way, in May 1891 the proletariat express, such in extension, as in deepness. However, in this year the bourgeoisie and several governments will be harder, and it will occur several chocks in many cities of the world. The most serious of them will be in Foumiers, in France. In this region, there is an old tradition: to reap in the field a little tree – in this time all flowered -, which is named mai fleuri (flowered May), lead to the main square and make, around it, a prom. The industrials in this period do not allow that the factories end their activities, and ask to the army to send reinforces. When the ceremony starts, the officials give immediate order to shoot. In the small square, with smashed and bloody flowers, stay ten dead, among them two children. The emotion will be huge all over the country.

However, generally, this new May First of 1891 has a character much more incisive. And the most interesting news is that in the capital of Russia, Saint Petersburg, a demonstration occurs, still small, but important because it opened a gap in a dictatorial State.

Such movements influence the Catholic Church, until then closed to any news of the modern world and the matters of work. In May fifteen, the Pope Lion XIII publishes the encyclical Rerum Novarum, which will exercise strong ascendance, for decades, over the social doctrine of the church. Despite its limitations and the retrograde aspects, it opens space for the creation of a workers’ movement of Catholic matrix in some countries.

The second congress of the Second International meets in Brussels, from September sixteen to twenty-three 1891, and counts with the participation of three hundred thirty-seven delegates of fifteen nations. In the balance made of the activities of the two previous years, it is highlight the force shown by the demonstrations of the May First. And in the end of the meeting it was approved a historic resolution: make the May First permanent as “party of workers of all over the countries, during which the proletariat should manifest the common objectives of its claims, as well as its solidarity”.

The decision was taken, but a lot of blood would still run to make it large avenue, where it would and continue to pass millions of workers in the fight for the emancipation and transformation of society.

Chapter 6

In Brazil

When the socialist congress of Paris of 1889 decided about the international demonstration of the May First, Brazil had left to be a slaver country for only one year (1888) – the last country in the world to put an end to the shame of the colonial slavery.

The emergence of the Brazilian independent State, in 1882, practically does not bring substantial change to the social and economic structure inherited of the period of Portuguese domination. It remains the production founded in the big agricultural property, with exploration if the slave arm. From 1850, this situation starts to slowly change. With the law of the extinction of the slave traffic, it releases a block of capital which will be employed in the development of coffee, product with market in expansion in Europe and United States.

The agriculture of coffee is of such order, that the best is to employ European labor

The coffee is delicate plant which demands much application of money, doesn’t being, therefore, the rough captive work the most indicate. Besides, the since cost of slaves had increased, since there were not new cams and the mortality among blacks was very high. It had started then the importation of European labor. In few decades, millions of Portuguese, Italians, Spanish, Polish, German, and other nationalities will immigrate in substitution to the African slave.

The coffee has hunger of earth and deepen through the interior, stepping back from the coast heading to west. This obliges the creation of a net of railways for the transport of coffee to the ports, aiming the exportation. These ports may extend the installations to be able to drain the mass of millions of bags brought by the railway wagons.

The growth of the cities. New habits and patterns of consumption and behavior. The emergence of the working class

The profits originated from this commerce focus mainly in the hands of the farmers, from whom many who before inhabited their own lands start to live in the cities, where they grow new needs of consumption. The urban nucleus grow, avenues are opened, trams are installed, lighting, systems of sewer and many other indispensable elements for the urban society. The logical consequence is that the labor diversifies. If before the axis of everything were the farms, almost self-catering, in this new phase the worker of the field, immigrant, or former slave find new possibilities. They may engage in the railways, in the ports or construction. They are individuals that should eat and dress. It becomes urgent the enlargement of the textile and food industries – and this way it takes place the emergence of the working class.

The industrialization in Brazil

Let us do some observations about the origin of the Brazilian industrialization. It starts very late in relation to the most advanced polos of the world, one century after England and at least fifty years after the United States. While other countries had industrialized in the time of the free concurrence and in a more or less isolated way, Brazil made it in the time of the Imperialism, that is, in the interior of a world system of capitalism which is integrated of dependent way, suffering strong conditioning to reach the sources of capitals, but with few control over its exterior market. Besides, it had not occurred to it a “revolution” in the economic base, which continues substantiated in the large property and monoculture. Other serious aspect is that this industrialization gives its first steps while the slavery regime still exists, which corrupts, degrades, inhibits and devalues the free work. The bosses of the factories many times are owners, or former-owners of slaves, and as such they behave with the workers of their establishments.

It is evident that over this frame it is not possible to speak seriously in social laws during the colony period. Let us remember the decree of 1850 which regulated the relations between employees and employers of commerce, and the decree of 1879, for free workers of the field, which extinguished a series of feudal obligations and prohibited physical punishment, fines or prison by not accomplished clauses of contract. Even the few laws made immediately fell in forgetfulness and the will of the stronger were total. It does not mean that there were no conflicts, chocks, strikes or even insurrections, with some partial victories that helped to end with the slavery and the Empire.

In the moment of the Republic proclamation (1889), the condition of workers was very simple. They did not have any right. There were no limits of the hours of work, retirement, minimum wage, stability, insurance against accidents etc. The embryos of the organizations of workers’ resistance are unseen or persecuted. In practice, only associations of assistance and charity are allowed.

Two progressive positivists

Two positivists lawyers, Teixeira Mendes and Miguel Lemos, sensitized by this situation, exploit the fact that there is several Secretaries of positivist tendency in the republican provisory government, send, through the Secretary of War, Benjamin Constant, draft of regulation of the work relations, which aimed the “incorporation of the proletariat in the modern society”. The draft, the makers say, had been presented for the consult of about four hundred workers. It proposes a wage of “substance” (which today we could call minimum), retirement, stability after seven years of work, insurance against accidents, fifteen days of vacation annually, one day of rest for week and limit of seven hours of work by day. The draft is referred only to the “public workshops”, that is, those workers dependent of the State, because it is considered limitation to freedom to impose to the private boss any kind of coercion regulator of labor in their companies. After much thanks to Teixeira Mendes and Miguel Lemos from the part of the government, the draft disappeared in the dust of the Secretaries’ shelves.

The only decrees downloaded by the provisory government are those who conceded fifteen days of vacation to the employees of the Ministry of Industry and Agriculture and retirement to the employees (not the workers) of the railways. It is regulated also the work of the minor in January seventeen 1891. The decree signed by the Marshal Deodoro in the “convenience and need to regulate the work and the conditions of minors employed in large number of factories of the Federal Capital, in order to avoid that, with own and Homeland future prosperity loss, thousands of children be sacrificed”. This law had territorial value limited only to the Federal Capital. Let us see in summary what it was about. It predicts that the admission to the work in factory is achievable only at twelve years complete, “save to title of learning in the fabric factories”, where it will be allowed the presence of eight years old complete children during six hours. Between twelve and fifteen years they could work “only” nine hours no consecutive daily. From this last age, there was no limit. It followed a series of rules to avoid the harmful work.

Well, even this so shy and restrict law to only one city remained without practical application. In compensation, other two laws, included in the Penal Code, had large utilization:

“Article 205 – Seduce or entice workers to leave the establishments in which they are employed under promise of reward or threaten of some evil. Penalties of cellular prison of one to three months or fine.

Article 206 – cause cessation or suspension of work, to impose to the bosses increase or diminution of service or labor. Penalty of cellular prison of one to three months”.

The echoes of the international movement for the eight hours reach slowly the Brazilian lands – adverse, stony, difficult land to germinate, such by the violence of the repressive system, as for the debility of the working class, which is still born, constituted mainly by groups of foreign who few knew the country, divided by nationalities and spread by some cities away of each other. The first groups of socialists and anarchists emerge, which, however, find insuperable difficulties to achieve direct contact among the workers’ masses.

The news that we have today about the dawn of the May First in Brazil are few and fragmented. We may associate, even in an indirect way, the demonstrations of the May First of 1890 in the world to a meeting made in the city of São Paulo. In June fifteen of this year, a group of activists meet in the hall of São José theatre, to try to form a workers’ party. They elect a commission composed by Francisco Cascão, Miguel Ribeiro and Carlos Hermida, to elaborate a program, whose second point says: “To promote the fixation of the eight hours of work”. This party disappears quickly, but the date deserves to be noticed as the first expression of the movement of workers for the eight hours.

In the following year, circulates in São Paulo the only number of a newspaper, called May First, and in Pernambuco the deputy Teles Júnior presents a project reducing to eight hours the workload in the State. The project is rejected.

In 1892, in São Paulo, it is edited a new paper, also only number, but this time in Italian, called 1 de Maggio, under the responsibility of Achille de Santis, while in Rio de Janeiro, in August of this year, under the presidency of Luís França e Silva, the creation of a workers’ party is tried again, which becomes known as the congress of foundation of the Socialist Party. In a long program presented, the article twenty-six puts the “fixation of eight hours for a normal day of work, with equitable reduction in harmful to health industries, and five hours for nocturnal work”. Few weeks after, this tentative comes also to fail.

In a meeting of socialists and anarchists in April of 1894, in São Paulo, by them pompously called Second Conference of Brazilian Socialists, decide to approve the resolutions of the Congress of Paris of 1889, of commemorating the May First. Unfortunately, they could do nothing that year, because the police interrupts the meeting, and leave them arrested. It all indicates that the snitch was the Italian consul. This fact did not cause surprise, because many elements of Italian nationality had participated of the meeting, and the Italian government had built a big net of informants to control their immigrated fellow citizens. Such spies counted with enthusiastic support of the local policemen. The Italians remained in prison for eight months; the Brazilian, only few days.

Maybe it is need another clarification. While in Europe it was very sharp the divisions among the several ideological chains which fought in the interior of the workers’ movement, here in Brazil everything was still very confusing. The militants many times named themselves indiscriminately of anarchists, libertarians, socialists, or communists.

Santos, pioneer in the Commemoration of the Work Day

The city which had the primacy of making a commemorative meeting of the May First was Santos, in 1895. This act, presumably in closed place, takes place by initiative of the Socialist Center, founded by Silvério Fontes, Sóter Araújo and Carlos Escobar, among others, and existent since 1889. Silvério Fontes was the first Brazilian socialist of Marxists tendency, according to Astrogildo Pereira. From this important act, it is left fir us only summary indications of Hermínio Linhares. A new tentative of making born a socialist party is made in Rio de Janeiro in the same year. The point number twenty-one of the program prayers: “It is considered holiday the May First, because it is party of the proletariat”. The pretention of the objectives was directly inverse to the force of this political grouping, which also cannot subsist.

The Rio Grande do Sul also provides us indications that the idea of the commemoration of the Work Day was spreading, when the Workers’ Union promotes the presentation of a theatre drama, in 1887, called The May First. The theatre is very used as instrument of political education, because the biggest part of workers is illiteracy, and even when they know how to read, they come from long only oral tradition, such the Brazilians, as the Italians and Iberians. In the decennials of the beginning of the 20th Century, the workers’ theatres multiply and even some known artists (as Ítala Fausta, according to statement of the unionist Roberto Morena) had their origins there.

One of the first anarchist militants, Benjamin Mota, remembers in his memories (Plebe, May 31, 1919) the occurrence of several conferences in the cities of Santos, São Paulo, Jundiaí, Campinas and Ribeirão Preto, at the May First of 1898. He also tells us that, at November eleven of the same year, he, with Gigi Damiani, Zererino Bartolo, Estevão Estrella, and others made a manifest to pin in the walls of São Paulo aiming to honor the anniversary of hanging of the martyrs of Chicago, this because the anarchists were very thoughtful in making the May First the maximum date of workers, because this date had been chosen in a socialist congress and in many countries, it was confused with a party. They prefer then the November eleven which remembers directly the “legally assassinated”, all anarchists. Coming back to the manifest of Benjamin Mota: the repression tears the posters of the walls and arrest all those who signed it. After 1900, it becomes even more difficult to make public acts at November eleven, because the new king of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele III, makes anniversary this day and the police alleges that an agitation which coincide with this date means offense to the Italian consul.

The new Century shows the city of Santos always in vanguard, when in 1900 a group of activists, Severino César Antunha, Alexandre Lascala, João Faria, and others founds a workers’ circle called May First Society. In the next year (1901) it is created in São José do Rio Pardo the workers’ association Sons of Work International Club, which releases a document in the May First written by an illustrious character, who is nothing less than the author of Os Sertões, Euclides da Cunha. Let us see what it says:

“The date of the May First was adopted for the commemoration of work by the International Congress of Paris, in the year of 1889, and confirmed by the congresses of Brussels and Zurich in 1891 and 1893. Exclusively popular party, it is destined to prepare the advent of the most noble and fecund of the human aspirations: the rehabilitation of the proletariat for the exact distribution of justice, whose supreme formula consists in give to each one what each one deserves. So, the abolition of the privileges derived of the fortune or of the force.

In order to this, it is mister to promote the solidarity among all that form the huge majority of the oppressed, over whom weigh the big injustices of the institutions and social prejudices of the actuality destined to disappear for that the peace reigns and happiness among the civilized people.

Promoting among us the commemoration of a so notable date, the Sons of Work International Club demands the vulgarization of the essential principles of the socialist program endeavoring in spread it among all the social classes.”

In this same year, in October it occurs the strike of workers in the quarries of Rio de Janeiro, which particularly interests us because the objective is the reduction of the time of work. They will be victorious, passing from twelve hours to the workload of ten. It already had happened other strikes in several categories, almost always to increase the miserable wages. But this one focused in the workload diminution, being pioneer of this genre in Brazil.

Entering the new Century, the combat for more human time of work daily becomes tenacious. Many walls are successful, however the big turnover and availability of labor and the general weakness of the unions make it possible to the avid employer cancel what was achieved by worker. And times after, again, it has been to come back to fight to claim the same thing already obtained years ago, this will be a constant in the conflict of the work relations in Brazilian History.


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