tonights: (into the unknown)
[personal profile] tonights
I do this every year, so bear with me.

On May 1st, 2009, let's take a moment to honor some of the folks who gave their lives to help all of us have 8-hour workdays. I certainly enjoy not being at work for 12 or 14 hours at a time, and I'm sure you do too.

On May 1st, 1886, trade unions organized a cooperative general strike in support of the movement for the 8-hour-day. Hundreds of thousands of people struck peacefully in cities all around the country, including in Chicago (the heart of the labor movement at that time) where Albert Parsons and his wife and children led a march of 80,000 people to support the strike.

On May 3rd, 1886, there was a skirmish between picketers, strikebreakers and police outside a Chicago plant. Although the general strike had been peaceful so far, at the end of the workday the striking workers tried to confront the plant's scabs and the police fired on them. Two of the workers were killed.

The Chicago anarchists mobilized to get people to rally against this act of anti-labor police violence and printed thousands of fliers asking people to gather (peacefully) at Haymarket Square.

On May 4th, the rally was held. August Spies spoke to the assembly.

August Spies, May 1, 1886: "There seems to prevail the opinion in some quarters that this meeting has been called for the purpose of inaugurating a riot... However, let me tell you at the beginning that this meeting has not been called for any such purpose. The object of this meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight-hour movement and to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it."

Despite the calm and peaceful atmosphere, the police ordered the crowd to disperse (contrary to the orders of the mayor of Chicago, who had observed the nonviolent proceedings and gone home because it was apparent nobody wanted to cause any trouble). Without provocation the police began to advance against the marchers, heavily armed.

Someone threw a pipe bomb which landed near the police line and detonated, killing one policeman, Mathias Degan. The police line opened fire on the workers. Several were killed and dozens more injured, with many of those who were hit not wanting to go to hospitals for fear of being arrested. Several policemen were also shot - mostly by friendly fire.

Anonymous police officer: "A very large number of the police were wounded by each other's revolvers. ... It was every man for himself, and while some got two or three squares away, the rest emptied their revolvers, mainly into each other."

Days later, eight anarchist organizers of the workers' march were arrested and charged with the murder of the dead policeman. Their names were August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe. Although the court could not connect even one of these individuals with the thrown bomb - and there were witnesses who testified that none of the men had been involved and Spies had actually been on a stage when the bomb was thrown - seven out of eight were sentenced to death, and one was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The prosecution insisted that they were responsible for the death of the slain officer because they had incited the crowd to riot.

While the anarchists were held up as labor heroes around the world, the mainstream media began to paint them (and by connection, other labor organizers) as variously "arch counselors of riot, pillage, incendiarism and murder," "bloody brutes", "red ruffians", "dynamarchists", "bloody monsters", "cowards", "cutthroats", "thieves", "assassins", and "fiends."

Two sentences were eventually commuted to life, and Lingg committed suicide, but on November 11th 1887 Spies, Engel, Fischer and Parsons were taken to a public gallows and hanged to death before a crowd of spectators.

Before August Spies dropped, he shouted "There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."

On June 26, 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld granted full pardons to the three surviving men, claiming they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. He said the hanged men had also been innocent and were the victims of "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge." This act marked the end of his political career.

American workers did not win the general right to an 8-hour day until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Remember these men and how they died. They died fighting. At this time it was an insane idea to work only eight hours a day, but now we take it as a given. It wasn't given, it was won through the power of men and women who wrote and organized and fought and struck and rallied. Most Americans don't even know who they were, or the decades of struggle that led us to get to go to work at 9 and leave at 5. I'm thankful for what they did for us.

Above all, remember that you DON'T have to accept things the way they are. The power of the people can change anything.

Date: 2009-05-01 09:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Happy May Day.

*left fist in the air, humming "Solidarity Forever"*


tonights: (Default)

January 2015

2526272829 3031

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 04:32 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios