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Home > Liberation > May 2007 > Homage to May Day Martyrs

Homage to May Day Martyrs

[In 1884, In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886. Chicago was the centre of this rising working class movement for the 8-hour working day, with the International Working People’s Association at the forefront. On May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works Factory, killing four and wounding many. As a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality was ending, a bomb was thrown at the police, killing one. Police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one worker and injuring many others.

With this pretext, eight of Chicago’s most active labour leaders were charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the Haymarket bombing. A kangaroo court found all eight guilty, despite a lack of evidence connecting any of them to the bomb-thrower (only one was even present at the meeting, and he was on the speakers’ platform), and they were sentenced to die.

Their speeches in court still ring with revolutionary reason, clarity and commitment, and continue to inspire the revolutionary movement for time to come. They graphically record the brutality and barbarism with which the capitalist class and media responded to working class struggles – and reminds us that each labour law was won literally by paying a price of blood.

Following excerpts from speeches of two of the Haymarket eight, we have some reports from AICCTU on ongoing struggles in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and West Bengal.]

August Spies: “You can stamp out a spark but the ground on which you stand is on fire…”

.. .if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement-the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery-the wage slaves-expect salvation-if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground upon which you stand is on fire…

…Grinnell spoke of Victor Hugo. I need not repeat what he said, but will answer him in the language of one of our German philosphers: “Our Bourgeoisie erects monuments in honor of the memory of the classics. If they had read them they would burn them!” Why, amongst the articles read here from the Arbeiter-Zeitung, put in evidence by the State, by which they intend to convince the jury of the dangerous character of the accused anarchists, is an extract from Goethe’s Faust, “Laws and class privileges are transmitted like an hereditary disease.”

And Mr. Ingham in his speech told the Christian jurors that our comrades, the Paris communists, had in 1871, dethroned God, the Almighty, and had put up in his place a low prostitute. The effect was marvelous! The good Christians were shocked.

I wish your honor would inform the learned gentlemen that the episode related occurred in Paris nearly a century ago, and that the sacrilegious perpetrators were the contemporaries of the founders of the Republic – and among them was Thomas Paine….

…The court has had a great deal to say about the incendiary character of the articles read from the Arbeiter-Zeitung. Let me read to you an editorial which appeared in the Fond du Lac Commonwealth, in October, 1886, a Republican paper. If I am not mistaken the court is Republican, too.

“To arms, Republicans! Work in every town in Wisconsin for men not afraid of firearms, blood or dead bodies, to preserve peace [that is the `peace’ I have been speaking of] and quiet; avoid a conflict of parties to prevent the administration of public affairs from falling into the hands of such obnoxious men as James G. Jenkins. Every Republican in Wisconsin should go armed to the polls on next election day. The grain-stacks, houses and barns of active Democrats should be burned; their children burned and their wives outraged, that they may understand that the Republican party is the one which is bound to rule, and the one which they should vote for, or keep their vile carcasses away from the polls. If they still persist in going to the polls, and persist in voting for Jenkins, meet them on the road, in the bush, on the hill, or anywhere, and shoot every one of these base cowards and agitators. If they are too strong in any locality, and succeed in putting their opposition votes into the ballot box, break open the box and tear in shreds their discord-breathing ballots. Burn them. This is the time for effective work. Yellow fever will not catch among Morrison Democrats; so we must use less noisy and more effective means. The agitators must be put down, and whoever opposes us does so at his peril. Republicans, be at the polls in accordance with the above directions, and don’t stop for a little blood…. “

What does your honor say to these utterances of a “law and order” organ-a Republican organ? How does the Arbeiter-Zeitung compare with this?…

…Now, these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I, if I could. And if you think that you can crush out these ideas that are gaining ground more and more every day, if you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows – if you would once more have people suffer the penalty of death because they have dared to tell the truth – and I defy you to show us where we have told a lie – I say, if death is the penalty for proclaiming the truth, then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, Galileo, still lives-they and others whose number is legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!

Albert R. Parsons: “Workers demand bread, you give them lead…”

…Now, going back to 1877, what do we find? The railroad strikes occurred. During the conflict of that year the following utterances were made by heavy employers and manufacturers and monopolists in this country. I will give you a few samples. This, mark you, is published in the Alarm of November 8, 1884, but the same extracts have been kept standing in the labor papers, published by the Knights of Labor, the trades unions, and the Socialists of the United States, there being somewhere over three hundred of these papers. Now listen: “Give them (the strikers) a rifle diet for a few days, and see how they like that kind of bread,” said Tom Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Central Railway, addressing Gov. Hartranft, of Pennsylvania, and calling upon him to send his army of militiamen to Pittsburg, to put down his railroad strikers, who were asking for a little more pay, and some of them asking for pay enough to get their hungry children bread….

“If the workingmen had no vote they might be more amenable to the teachings of the times,” says the Indianapolis News. “There is too much freedom in this country rather than too little,” says the Indianapolis Journal. In 1878, the New York Tribune, in an editorial upon strikes, used these words: “These brutal strikers or creatures can understand no other meaning than that of force, and ought to have enough of it to be remembered among them for many generations.”

“Hand-grenades should be thrown among these union sailors who are striving to obtain higher wages and less hours. By such treatment they would be taught a valuable lesson, and other strikers could take warning from their fate,” said the Chicago Times. “It is very well to relieve real distress wherever it exists, whether in the city or in the country, but the best meal that can be given a ragged tramp is a leaden one, and it should be supplied in sufficient quantities to satisfy the most voracious appetite.” ….. 

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