May Day is workers' day
The struggle for the eight-hour day which began in the 19th century (and which goes on, even now) involved strikes and demonstrations throughout the world, and a coordinated day of action on 1 May 1886. In a related demonstration three days later, in the Haymarket in Chicago, a bomb was thrown at the police, killing eight. The anarchist organisers of the demonstration and the speakers were then arrested and prosecuted for the murders, on the grounds that the bomb thrower was inspired by their ideas.
Seven were caught. The eighth man sought by the police, Albert Parsons, avoided arrest until the first day of the trial, when he gave himself up at the courthouse saying, “I have come to stand trial, your honour, with my innocent comrades.”
After turning himself in, Parsons said, “I know what I have done. They will kill me. But I couldn't bear to be at liberty, knowing that my comrades were to suffer for a crime of which they are as innocent as I.”
In his final words to the court, the anarchist August Spies said, “If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement... if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon 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.”
Four defendants, including Spies and Parsons, were hanged. One committed suicide in his cell. Three received prison sentences.
May Day is a workers' holiday because the international labour movement designated it a day of international solidarity in memory of the Haymarket martyrs.
But May Day is not only about remembering the past, it's also about our hopes and visions for the future, a future in which we will establish peace and freedom in every area of our lives, including in our economic lives.
Capitalist democracy means dictatorship at work, excluding industry from democratic control. In this issue, we've looked at examples of people taking control, examples that can inspire us to experiment and resist.
May Day is spring day
May Day is also a time of spring, of renewal and optimism. It is a time to celebrate the constructive power of our movements, which requires among other things the power to obstruct and disrupt, as Dan Clawson argues in his front page article.
The peace movement and the labour movement both need boldness in vision and action. We can learn from each other and aid each other in creating a future of peace and justice.