(eng)May Day & Anarchism

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Wed, 1 May 1996 02:17:33 +0000 (GMT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1996 10:54:48 +0100 (BST)
From: RAYCUNHM <RAYCUNHM@macollamh.ucd.ie>
To: raycunhm@macollamh.ucd.ie
Subject: May Day & Anarchism

It's that time of year again folks, lets
remember the anarchist origins of May Day
and look to build solidarity...

************* from WS28 **********

TRADITIONALLY, May 1st has been a day with
special significance for the labour movement. A
day of worldwide solidarity, a time to remember
and demonstrate our common interests_and
common goal - the emancipation of labour.
It all began over a century ago when the American
Federation of Labour adopted an historic resolution which
asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour
from and after May 1st, 1886".
In the months prior to this date workers in their
thousands were drawn into the struggle for the shorter day.
Skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native
and immigrant were all becoming involved.


In Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike. A newspaper of
that city reported that "no smoke curled up from the tall
chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a
Sabbath-like appearance". This_was the main centre of the
agitation, and here the anarchists were in the forefront of the
labour movement. It was to no small extent due to their
activities that Chicago became an outstanding trade union
centre and made the biggest contribution to the eight-hour
When on May 1st 1886, the eight hour strikes
convulsed that city, one half of the workforce at the
McCormick Harvester Co. came out. Two days later a mass
meeting was held by 6,000 members of the 'lumber shovers'
union who had also come out. The meeting was held only a
block from the McCormick plant and was joined by some 500 of
the strikers from there.
The workers listened to a speech by the anarchist
August Spies, who has been asked to address the meeting by
the Central Labour Union. While Spies was speaking, urging
the workers to stand together and not retreat before the
bosses, the strikebreakers were beginning to leave the nearby
McCormick plant.
The strikers, aided by the 'lumber shovers' marched down the
street and forced the scabs back into the factory. Suddenly a
force of 200 police arrived and, without any warning, attacked
the crowd with clubs and revolvers. They killed at least one
striker, seriously wounded five or six others and injured an
indeterminate number.


Outraged by the brutal assaults he had witnessed, Spies went
to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (a daily anarchist
newspaper for German immigrant workers) and composed a
circular calling on the workers of Chicago to attend a protest
meeting the following night.
The protest meeting took place in the Haymarket
Square and was addressed by Spies and two other
anarchists_active in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons
and Samuel Fielden.


Throughout the speeches the crowd was orderly. Mayor
Carter Harrison, who was present from the beginning of the
meeting, concluded that "nothing looked likely to happen to
require police interference". He advised police captain John
Bonfield of this and suggested that the large force of police
reservists waiting at the station house be sent home.
It was close to ten in the evening when Fielden was
closing the meeting. It was raining heavily and only about
200 people remained in the square. Suddenly a police column
of 180 men, headed by Bonfield, moved in and ordered the
people to disperse immediately. Fielden protested "we are


At this moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the
police. It killed one, fatally wounded six more and injured
about seventy others. The police opened fire on the
spectators. How many were wounded or killed by the police
bullets was never exactly ascertained.
A reign of terror swept over Chicago. The press and
the pulpit called for revenge, insisting the bomb was the work
of socialists and anarchists. Meeting halls, union offices,
printing works and private homes were raided. All known
socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Even many
individuals ignorant of the meaning of socialism and anarchism
were arrested and tortured. "Make the raids first and look up
the law afterwards" was the public statement of Julius
Grinnell, the state's attorney.


Eventually eight men stood trial for being "accessories to
murder". They were Spies, Fielden, Parsons, and five other
anarchists who were influential in the labour movement,
Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg
and Oscar Neebe.
The trial opened on June 21st 1886 in the criminal
court of Cooke County. The candidates for the jury were not
chosen in the usual manner of drawing names from a box. In
this case a special bailiff, nominated by state's attorney
Grinnell, was appointed by the court to select the candidates.
The defence was not allowed to present evidence that the
special bailiff had publicly claimed "I am managing this case
and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be
hanged as certain as death".


The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made
up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the
dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of
the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had
been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of
such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in
Haymarket Square that evening.
No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had
incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor
Harrison described the speeches as "tame". No proof was
offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact,
Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.


That the eight were on trial for their anarchist beliefs and
trade union activities was made clear from the outset. The
trial closed as it had opened, as was witnessed by the final
words of Attorney Grinnell's summation speech to the jury.
"Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been
selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because
they were leaders. There are no more guilty than the
thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict
these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save
our institutions, our society."
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 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer
were hanged.


600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The
campaign to free Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued.
On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set them free.
He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he
thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were
innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. They
and the hanged men had ben the victims of "hysteria, packed
juries and a biased judge".
The authorities has believed at the time of the trial
that such persecution would break the back of the eight-hour
movement. Indeed, evidence later came to light that the bomb
had been thrown by a police agent working for Captain
Bonfield, as part of a conspiracy involving certain steel bosses
to discredit the labour movement.
When Spies addressed the court after he had been
sentenced to die, he was confident that this conspiracy would
not succeed. "If you think that by hanging us you can stamp
out the labour movement... the movement from which the
downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in misery and
want, expect salvation - if this os your opinion, then hang us!
Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind
you - and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It
is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out".


One hundred and seven years after years after that first May
Day demonstration in Chicago, where are e? It has become
little more than an institution. We stroll though town with
our union banners - about the only day of the year we can get
them out of head office. Then we stand around listening to
boring (and usually pretty meaningless) speeches by equally
boring union bureaucrats. You have to keep reminding
yourself that May Day was once a day when workers all over
the world displayed their strength and proclaimed their ideals.
It is important that "once upon a time" it was like
that. We can do it again. We need independent working class
politics. No collaboration with government and bosses, no
more PESPs. Defiance of the Industrial Relations Act, not
passively giving up. Real solidarity with fellow workers in
struggle, not a blinkered sectional outlook.
We need revolutionary politics. That means politics
that can lead us towards a genuine socialism where freedom
knows no limit other than not interfering with the freedom of
others. A socialism that is based on real democracy - not the
present charade where we can choose some of our rulers, but
may not choose to do without rulers. A real democracy where
everyone effected by a decision will have the opportunity to
have their say in making that decision. A democracy of
efficiently co-ordinated workplace and community councils. A
society where production is to satisfy needs, not to make
profits for a privileged few. Anarchism.
Check out http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/2419 for
WSM texts on anarchism and Irish Politics.

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for the latest issues of Workers Solidarity
and Red & Black Revolution as well as my
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<a href="http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724"> RBR </a>