May Day

May 1 is the International Worker’s Day, national holiday in more than 80 countries, and also celebrated unofficially in many other countries. It’s the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago.

History (adapted from Wikipedia, Haymarket affair)

In October 1884, a convention held by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, of U.S.A, unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard.

When that date arrived, on Saturday, May 1, 1886, rallies were held throughout the United States. Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S.A. range from 300.000 to half a million.

The demonstrations in Chicago were nonviolent until the May 3. That day a group of McCormick plant workers confronted strikebreakers, and police fired against the crowd, killing at least two persons, although some newspapers said there were six.

A rally was organized for the next day at Haymarket Square. Several workers leaders spoke to the crowd (about 3000 persons), until police arrived, and ordered to disperse. At that moment a home-made bomb was thrown against the police, killing one officer. Then police fired against the people. Some witnesses said that there was an exchange of gunshots between police and demonstrators. Other ones, however, said that police fired on the fleeing demonstrators, reloaded and then fired again.

Haymarket riot
author: Harper’s Weekly

In less than five minutes the square was empty except for the casualties. Seven policemen were dead, and other sixty wounded. It’s well known that most police officers, or perhaps all them except the wounded by the bomb, were killed or wounded by friendly fire from other officers firing in the darkness. An anonymous police official told a newspaper, “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.” About the civilians, there isn’t known the exact number of dead and wounded. But at least four persons were killed, and between fifty and seventy wounded.

Police assumed an anarchist had thrown the bomb. In the next days they arrested several anarchists. Two of them collaborated with police accusing others, and became free in exchange. The trial against eight anarchists started just on June 21, 1886, and went on until August 11, in an atmosphere of extreme prejudice by public and media toward the defendants, and even the judge that was presiding the trial too. The defendants were August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe. Just Spies and Fielden were present at the place when the bomb exploded.

Haymarket martyrs
author: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

After a mockery trial, seven of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging and other one (Neebe) to 15 years in prison. The sentencing provoked protests around the world, and elevated the defendants to the status of martyrs. Prominent people as William Dean Howells, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw strongly condemned the sentence, because the trial was widely believed to have been unfair.

Illinois Governor Richard James Oglesby commuted two defendants (Fielden and Schwab) sentences to life in prison on November 10, 1887. On the eve of his scheduled execution, another one (Lingg) committed suicide in his cell with a smuggled dynamite cap which he reportedly held in his mouth like a cigar. The next day (November 11, 1887) four defendants, Spies, Parsons, Fischer and Engel were executed in the gallows.

A few years later, on June 26, 1893, the new Illinois Governor, John Peter Altgeld, signed pardons for the survivors Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab, calling them victims of “hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge” and noting that the state “has never discovered who it was that threw the bomb which killed the policeman, and the evidence does not show any connection whatsoever between the defendants and the man who threw it.”

Haymarket Martyr's Memorial
Haymarket Martyr’s Memorial

The May 1 was formally recognized as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891. In most countries it is an official holiday and is a day for demonstrations of working class. Despite this holiday commemorates an affair that happened in Chicago, in the United States the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September.

 

Nowdays

It’s sad to remember working class was fighting for the eight-hour work day 128 years ago, and they got it some years later in most countries. However, nowdays that is almost a past memory. In many countries that’s officilially the standard time work day, yes… but just “officially”. All us know that the reality is another. Working days of 10, 12, 14 hours, extra hours that aren’t been payed… that is the usual in “democratic” countries in European Union. Spain is surely the less democratic of them, that’s right, but the situation isn’t much better in the rest, I think. Now, also, neoliberals haven’t enough with that, and they talk clearly about to raise working day to 60 hours/week, which probably will mean a real 70 or 80 hours/week.

Homer SimpsonAnd what are we, working class, doing nowdays? To look football, to drink beer, to buy a bigger TV to watch better the football, to enjoy watching how wonderful is rich people life and hoping to be there some day in some magical way; and facing each other, native against immigrants, young against older workers, private against public employees, catholics and protestants against muslims, whites against blacks… while the real enemy is enriched every day at our expense. We, the workers of the XXI century, are losing the rights that workers in the XIX and part of XX century got with their fight. And we are losing that rights almost without saying a word. Probably never the class warfare was so unbalanced in the last centuries.Most people thinks is politically incorrect or anachronic to talk about class warfare. Of course, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” (Karl Marx), and the ruling class doesn’t want that words, class warfare, being seen, that’s no convenient for them. However, Warren Buffet (third richest person in the world in 2012) said it a few years ago, in 2005: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”. If they are making war and most workers don’t know nor want to know such war exists, no wonder who is winning.

Warren Buffet
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