MAY DAY

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.” – yelled August Spies from the gallows. That was his statement who was executed along with others after they were arrested and convicted of murder.

International Workers’ Day, or MAY DAY, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world for an eight-hour work day, with two other 8 hour installments for home and rest.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative methods had already failed. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, rank-and-file support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union leaders. By April 1886, 250,000 workers were involved in the May Day movement.

The heart of the movement was in Chicago, organized primarily by the anarchist International Working People’s Association. Businesses and the state were terrified by the increasingly revolutionary character of the movement and prepared accordingly. As like the ruler-capitalist nexus of today,the police and militia were increased in size and received new and powerful weapons financed by local business leaders. Their main point stated-“ DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.” On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye.

It was then that 180 cops marched into the square and ordered the meeting to disperse. As the speakers climbed down from the platform, a bomb was thrown at the police, killing one and injuring seventy. Police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one worker and injuring many others. This incident was used as an excuse to attack the entire Left and labor movement and eight of Chicago’s most active spirited workers, namely—Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe—were charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the Haymarket bombing. A kangaroo court found all eight guilty, despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the bomb-thrower (only one was even present at the meeting, and he was on the speakers’ platform), On August 19th seven of the defendants were sentenced to death, and Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for their release, the state “compromised” and commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Albert Parsons, George Engel, August Spies and Adolf Fischer were hanged.

The incident is remembered as the Haymarket affair, or the Haymarket massacre. The place in Haymarket Square where the incident happened was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1992. The sacrifices of so many people cannot be forgotten or we’ll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.

Reference:

Eugene Debs speech in My 1919 before entering prison – http://www.marxisthistory.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1919/0501-debs-maydayspeech.pdf

marxisthistory.org

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