It’s 2018 and International Worker’s Day aka May day is right around the corner (May 1st). The working class in the US and around the world is under attack through an international offensive on a scale we haven’t seen since the second Inter-Imperialist War (chauvinistically called “World War 2” by the capitalists). As Capitalism progresses further in its crisis, the world as we know it is rapidly changing. All the progress that the working class and the masses have fought and died for is being reversed. The Capitalists are making more money than ever in finance and every other sector. Meanwhile, our wages are in the shithole as the cost of living skyrockets.
May Day developed from a culmination of working class struggles and events surrounding workers fighting for better working conditions and the 8 hour work day. The actual date of May 1st to commemorate these struggles came to be as a result of events which occurred in Chicago. Right now in 2018 US workers work more than most workers in any other imperialist country (what the capitalists call the “developed/free world” ) and have some of the worst benefits and paid time off as these same countries. Our worsening situation, like the markets, are international in scope. Workers in Haiti for example are organizing for Mayday demonstrations in worse living conditions than the Chicago workers were facing in the late 1800s. Below, we will provide some historic context to it to this day. Our position is that the only progress possible right now from the interests of the workers and masses of humanity under the brutal whip of capitalism– the only real hope for a better future, is an organized autonomous working class movement fighting for workers interests!
In the late 19th century, the working class and its labor movement entered the struggle for an 8 hour workday. At the time, the workers unions were controlled by the workers themselves and held significant power. Even the yellow collaborationist unions which were not controlled by the workers such as the AFofL (later to become the AFL-CIO), had a strong base of support and membership in the working class. These unions as the capitalist unions of today, had to walk that line of contradiction: of being capitalist business organizations who claimed to be “workers organizations”. Because of this they were forced to respond to the growing worker’s demands to a certain extent. It should be noted that before it merged into a national movement, the working class throughout the country whether miners, steel or factory workers, were engaging in struggles to shorten their work days and better their conditions in isolated pockets. It wasn’t something that just happened out of nowhere.
Most workers were working 12-16 hour days as regular days and at every step to make the day shorter, were faced with attacks by the bosses and their hired thugs from the Pinkertons (a private security force still in existence today), or the police. Workers were literally killed at every struggle to lower their working hours. These struggles included whole sections of the working class: women, men, white, black, native, immigrant, skilled and unskilled. The racialist identity politics dominating the petite-bourgeoisie today held very little sway in the working class movement. These struggles were difficult, taking time and dedication but they were all in it together -all facing the same conditions. They were facing off with the capitalist class that took all the fruits of their labor and paid them the bare minimal not to die so they can come to work day in and day out.
The Struggles Develop
By May 5, 1886: 400,000 workers went on strike in Chicago alone. Workers were showing solidarity to each other and the embryonic stages of a mass movement were taking shape. For example: when 6,000 lumber shovers had a mass meeting, they were joined by 500 McCormick Iron workers whose work site went on strike two days prior. Workers and laborers felt a common identity, they didn’t identify with this or that capitalist or politician- but with their class. It was this collective class consciousness that guided and pushed this long struggle forward.
During a speech by August Spies (a labor militant), where he was urging workers to stand together and not give in to the bosses, the strikebreakers hired by the bosses were beginning to leave the McCormick plant. The strikers, and lumber shovers forced the scabs back into the factory. In typical fashion, the police arrived to defend the bosses and attacked the workers with clubs and pistols, wounding many and killing at least 1 worker. Spies, outraged by the police terror, issued a call for the workers to attend a protest demonstration for the following night in Chicago’s working class newspaper (Arbeiter-Zeitung ).
The demonstration was held in Haymarket square, Chicago on May 5. It initially had over a thousand people. As the evening went on, the rains came and people started to leave. Eventually it sizzled down to around 200-300 or so workers. This included their families, wives, children, and all. The police have been standing by the whole time, letting it go on. Initially they were substantially outnumbered by the crowd.
When the workers numbers finally dropped and while speeches were still going on, the police approached with their guns drawn. A bomb was thrown, and though we still don’t know who did it (though evidence later came out it might have been the work of a police agent conspiring with steel bosses to discredit the worker’s movement), the capitalist press went on a rampage blaming the workers and the organizers.
The police ended up opening fire on the workers and their families. They brutally massacred innocent people with their families fighting for better working conditions. These workers demanded their respect and dignity. Their lives were mostly spent in horrible conditions for up to 16 hours a day toiling in factories while the bosses made off with all the products of their hard labor. Hard working people were murdered for exercising their alleged “freedoms of speech and assembly”.
And, just as the capitalist press today twists facts to fit their anti-worker stories, they spun this demonstration as a “riot”. They spread all sorts of lies against the workers and organizers including a whole lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric, saying things like “foreign agitators” are coming to release “waves of violence against law and order”.
The capitalists intensified their attacks on workers and their organizations, unleashing campaigns of terror. The capitalist press insisted the bomb was the work of socialists and anarchists, and called for revenge. Hundreds of foreign born workers, organizers, and labor leaders were rounded up across the country and tortured. Some were socialists some were anarchists, some had no idea what either meant and were just workers fighting for their collective class interests. The state attorney at the time said “Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards!”. A Grand jury (a set of around 23 people who work closely with the prosecution to decide if charges are to be brought – in this case was composed of business men) indicted 31 organizers they suspected as “radicals”. They claimed the organizers were connected to the bomb. Eight People that led the Haymarket demonstration were convicted in a ridiculous trial. Seven of the eight were given the death penalty by the judge. One was sentenced to a Fifteen year bid in prison.
On November 10, 1887, the day before his scheduled execution, one of the others sentenced to death (Louis Lingg) committed suicide. The next day on November 11, 1887, the other 4 organizers: George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons and August Spies were hanged by the state. Right before his murder, Spies said “There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today”. 600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The remaining 3 of the original 8 (Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab), were later let out. The bosses, police, and politicians of the time thought that would break the 8-hour movement. Little did they know the willpower of the workers!
Also In 1887, the US president Grover Cleveland, in a direct move against the masses of the laboring and working classes-supported by the Knights of Labor (the strongest pro-capitalist business labor union of the time) started the motion to make the US Labor day September 9. In 1894 after the US Army and US Marshalls murdered striking laborers during the historic Pullman railroad strike, congress approved the legislation. Before that, in 1889, the Second International, which was the international congress of workers, labor, and socialist parties and organizations, made May 1st International Worker’s Day! They called for international demonstrations in honor of the working class struggle leading up to and after the 8-hour day struggle along with the events of Haymarket and Chicago. The demonstrations were to commemorate the collective struggles as well as the workers who lost their lives. Mayday is celebrated throughout most of the world to this day. Unfortunately with a brutalized working class plus treacherous unions who collaborated with capitalists and fully supported them through the two Inter-imperialist wars that would follow- the memory of Workers Day like so much other working class history, has mostly been forgotten in the United States.
The importance of Mayday and the historic struggles of the working class need to be highlighted. It is not by chance-nor is it by the benevolent wishes of the capitalist class (who have antagonistic class interests to the working class) that we have basic bourgeois democratic rights today. These rights, which are being rolled back at every possible turn by the capitalists and their politicians, were won after decades of struggle. Workers fought for every cent and every crumb! Mayday like Working Women’s Day, has a long rich history of working class organization and struggle. And like Working Women’s Day, the capitalists have been attacking the organizations and history involved from day one. This is working class history and we shall never forget!
We are witnessing a coordinated international attack on the working class today. As we commemorate our rich past, may we pick up our historic task! In an epoch of fascist consolidation happening at every level of society, it is more important than ever that workers and laborers reclaim our stolen history. We must offer our own alternative from our own autonomous perspective. Only a unified autonomous working class led movement can do this. We must organize! It’s time we stop taking on the attacks and find a way to fight back!
Today is the Bosses, Tomorrow is Ours!
We have seen the world Capitalism has to offer us – and it’s ugly. Regardless of their constant preaching of “family, opportunity, freedom” and the like, we see a decaying world of ruins where markets are gods and capitalists live like kings. Meanwhile, workers who make it all possible by producing EVERYTHING and adding New Value to the economy- as well as the masses of humanity- face ever worsening conditions. We see their world of exploitation and domination. This world where market driven climate change is threatening the lives of millions of species does not have to be this way. They say this is the end of history, that capitalism is the most efficient- we disagree! We say fuck them! They had their turn, and they’re ruining it for us all! Everything in society today is possible by the working class.
They try to make us believe we are powerless. Devoid of our historic knowledge and class consciousness that is true. But, armed with the tools of our collective struggle, we have the capacity to literally transform the world. How can a whole class of people who produce everything from pens and computers to tanks and planes be powerless? How can workers have no power and the exploiters run the world? It’s simple: by keeping us disorganized and our class knowledge erased. If these words resonate with you. If you agree workers and laborers should organize autonomously and build a mass movement, get in touch today!