[imc-rochester] 5/1: May Day picnic / celebration of International Workers' Day!
knight0440 at yahoo.com
knight0440 at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 28 14:28:30 PDT 2008
What: May Day picnic and celebration!
Where: Manhattan Square Park (Chestnut and Court)
When: Thursday, May 1st, 6pm (after the workers and
immigrant rights rally at the liberty pole at 4:30pm)
Capture the flag, soccer, frisbee, people's mic,
picnic / potluck (bring a dish or drink to share! :)
Don't forget to attend the May Day rally for workers
and immigrant rights at the Liberty Pole at 4:30pm on
More on May Day:
An anarchist celebration of May Day
A history of the Chicago events
Not many people know why May Day became International
Workers Day and why we should still celebrate it. 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 there
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
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
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
give in to 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
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
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
The police attack
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 peaceable".
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
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
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
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 may have 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
movement from which the downtrodden millions, the
millions who toil in misery and want, expect salvation
- if this is 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".
Over a century after that first May Day demonstration
in Chicago, where are we? 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, proclaimed their ideals and celebrated their
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. Real solidarity with fellow workers in
struggle, not a blinkered sectional outlook. We still
need a further reduction in working hours, without
loss of pay, to make work for the unemployed.
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.
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