May 1 is known as El Dia del Trabajo or El Día de Los Trabajadores (Labor Day). It was first celebrated in 1913 in Mexico with a protest march by workers, but it was not an official national holiday until 1923 or 1925. May 1 was the date chosen by the Congress of Socialists and Communists of the Second International in Paris in 1889 and is the date that most countries continue to commemorate it, with the notable exception of the United States.
The two most important incidents mentioned in conjunction with this holiday in Mexico are the 1906 riot in Cananea, Sonora and the 1907 riot in Rio Blanco, Veracruz.
The strike and subsequent riot in Sonora began at the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company. Mexican workers earned 3.5 pesos per day, while American workers, doing the same job, earned 5 pesos per day. Mexican workers protested during the Cinco de Mayo celebrations and went on strike on June 1.
The strikers’ demands were as follows:
–removal of a specific foreman named Luis
–pay of 5 pesos for 8 hours work
–an employment quota that would ensure 75% of the jobs were for Mexicans
–responsible and respectful men to run the cages (elevators into the mines)
–promotions for Mexicans based on their skills
During the protestations, American employees doused the protesters with water and shot at the group, killing three. Two of the American instigators were lynched and then burned by the demonstrators. Martial law was enforced by 275 Arizona Rangers from the U.S. who were summoned to protect the American investors’ interests. At least 23 people were killed in the confrontation.
The Rio Blanco textile strike began in December of 1907. It started as a lock-out in protest of working conditions and the corrupt system of company stores. When the French owners appealed to Porfirio Diaz to mediate the conflict, the workers refused to return to work. The first casualties occurred when the store owners shot protesters. The Rio Blanco store, along with other company stores, were burned.
The Rio Blanco labor riot occurred over a two day period, January 7-8, in 1907. Mexican Federal troops killed up to 200 men, women and children, although the actual number varied according to sources. Soldiers fired point blank at protesters and then systematically hunted down those involved, imprisoning hundreds more.
These incidents were precursors to the Mexican Revolution. (See Women in the Revolution–Marcelina) and were key influences in the writing of the Constitution of 1917.
On this day, schools, banks, and other government offices are closed. Honestly, it depends on your boss whether this day is paid or not. Seems like labor laws in Mexico still lack a bit.
May is quite the month here in Mexico. Every time you turn around there is another celebration! For other Mexican May holidays see: El Día de Los Trabajadores, Conmemoración del Escuadron de Pelea 201, El Dia de La Santa Cruz y El Dia del Albañil, La Batalla de Puebla, Natalicio de Miguel Hidalgo, El Dia de la Madre, Pascua de Pentecostés, El Día del Maestro, and El Dia del Estudiante.