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The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection

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Celebrate May Day!


Come and learn about May Day and how it has been celebrated by the ILGWU and other labor unions in the past.  The Kheel Center will host a one day “Open House” on May 1, 2013 from 4:00-5:00 p.m. in the Main Reading Room located at 227 Ives Hall.  On display will be photographs of May Day rallies and parades, original posters,  and other unique material from the archives. 

Locals and members of the ILGWU often actively participated in May Day events, from marching in parades to cheering in rallies.  Come and see the photographs that show the union members taking part in the parades while they march down New York City streets and sit atop floats.  Also on view are some of the original banners and pennants that were carried during May Day activities.  And there will be numerous broadsides, flyers, leaflets and pamphlets the ILGWU created to organize events and help educate individuals on the history of May Day.

Some of the other highlights that will be exhibited include:  items from unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), and the International Fur and Leather Workers’ Union; international publications showing how May Day has been celebrated across the globe including material from German, French, Italian and Colombian unions; original documents illustrating the movement for the 8 hour day; and several song books with traditional labor songs.

Following the Kheel Center Open House will be a film screening of “Brothers on the Line” at 5:00 p.m. in 105 Ives Hall.  “Brothers on the Line” documents the journey and legacy of the Reuther brothers—Walter, Roy, and Victor—labor leaders and organizers in the early 20th century who were active in the development of the UAW (United Auto Workers). 

Want to know more about May Day and its history?  The following is an excerpt from the ILGWU publication “What is May Day and Why We Celebrate It” c. 1930s

… in the 1860s and 1870s, there was great sentiment among the American workers for the 8-hour day, ...  One labor organization after the other passed strong resolutions calling for the limitation of the working day to eight hours, resolutions expressing a determination to put up a fight for this demand.  Finally, on October 7, 1884, the fourth convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (that is how the American Federation of Labor was then called) adopted a resolution reading:

“Resolved by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, that eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from MAY FIRST, 1886, and that we recommend to labor organizations throughout their jurisdiction that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution by the time named.”

In other words, the trade unions decided to go into action for the 8-hour day and they picked upon May First as the day on which to launch their fight.  So you see that May Day was born in struggle; it was born as the symbol of the unity and might of the workers fighting for a better life!


View photographs from historical May Day parades:
May Day Rally
Members Marching
Bands Marching
Cheering from the Sides
Parade down 5th Ave.
Union Members steer a Float
Marching in front of a Banner
1937 May Day Parade
Local 22
Parade Float pulled by Horses
May Day Parade
May Day Parade
May Day Parade
Local 22
May Day Rally 1937
Union Square 1937

See broadsides from May Day events:
May Day at the Hippodrome
May Day at Randall's Island Stadium
All Out for May Day
May Day Rally