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(en) Reclaiming May Day

From Victor Chernov <wsany@hotmail.com>
Date Wed, 23 Apr 2003 00:58:30 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of
working people throughout the world, and is recognized in nearly every
country except the U.S. and Canada. This despite the fact that the holiday
began in the 1880's in the U.S., with the fight for an 8-hour workday.

In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (predecessor of
the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution stating that 8 hours
would constitute a legal day's work starting May 1, 1886. The resolution
called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative methods
had already failed. With workers being forced to work 10, 12 and 14 hours a
day, support for the 8-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 8-hour a day struggle.

The heart of the movement was in Chicago, Illinois, organized primarily by
members of the anarchist International Working People's Association (IWPA).
Businesses and the Sate were terrified by the increasingly revolutionary
character of the movement and prepared accordingly. The police and militia
were increased in size and received new and powerful weapons, including a
machine gun for the National Guard to be used against the strikers.
Nevertheless, by May 1st, the movement had already won gains for many
workers. But on May 3, 1886, police fired into the crowd of strikers at the
McCormick Reaper factory, killing 4 and wounding many. Anarchists call for a
mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest police brutality
(sound familiar?).

The meeting proceeded without incident, and by the time the last speaker was
on the platform, the rainy gathering was already breaking up, with only a
hundred people remaining. It was then that 180 cops marched into the Square
and ordered the meeting to disperse. As the speakers climbed down 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.

Although it was never determined who threw the bomb, the incident was used
an excuse to attack the entire radical and labor movement. Police ransacked
the homes and offices of suspected anarchists and radicals, and hundreds
arrested without charge. Anarchists in particular were harassed, and 8 of
Chicago's most active were charged with conspiracy to murder in connection
the Haymarket bombing. A kangaroo court found all 8 guilty, despite a lack
evidence connecting any of them to the bomb-thrower, who was never caught.
Only one of them was even at the rally at the time of the bombing. Five were
sentenced to death. Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George
Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide in
prison. The remaining 3 were finally pardoned in 1883.

It is not surprising that the state, business leaders, mainstream union
officials and the media want to hide the true history of May Day, portraying
it as a holiday only celebrated in North Korea. In an attempt to erase the
history and significance of May Day, the US government, years ago, declared
May 1st to be Law Day and gave us instead Labor Day -- a holiday devoid of
any historical significance anywhere else in the world.

Nevertheless, rather then suppressing labor and radical movements, the
of 1886 and the execution of the Chicago anarchists actually mobilized many
generations of radicals, and continues to do so today. Emma Goldman later
pointed to the Haymarket affair as her political birth. The Spanish National
Confederation of Labor (CNT) has made the commemoration of the Chicago
Martyrs a yearly event. Lucy Parsons, widow of Albert Parsons, called upon
the poor to direct their anger at those responsible -- the rich. Instead of
disappearing, the anarchist workers movement only grew in the wake of
Haymarket, spawning other radical and anarchist movements and inspiring
segments of the labor movement, including the Industrial Workers of the
World, both here and abroad.

By covering up the history of May Day, the state, business, mainstream
and the media have covered up the entire legacy of dissent and labor
radicalism, particularly anarchist labor unionism, in the U.S. They are
terrified of what a similarly militant and self-organized movement could
accomplish today, and they attempt to suppress the seeds of such
whenever and wherever they can. As workers, we must recognize and
May Day not for historical significance, but also a time to organize around
an issue of vital importance to working class people today.

Workers Solidarity Alliance
339 Lafayette Street - Room 202
New York, NY 10012

tel. (212) 979-8353

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