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Reclaim Mayday for anarchism

category international | history | feature author Sunday April 30, 2006 21:42author by Anarcho Report this post to the editors was launched for Mayday 2005 so this Mayday represents our first birthday.

On the anniversary of the first May Day, we must apply our anarchist ideas to everyday life and the class struggle, inside and outside industry, in order to make anarchism a possibility

On the anniversary of the first May Day, we must apply our anarchist ideas to everyday life and the class struggle, inside and outside industry, in order to make anarchism a possibility

Reclaim May Day!

May 1st is a day of special significance for the labour movement. While it has been hijacked in the past by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the labour movement festival of May Day is a day of world-wide solidarity. A time to remember past struggles and demonstrate our hope for a better future. A day to remember that an injury to one is an injury to all.

The history of Mayday is closely linked with the anarchist movement and the struggles of working people for a better world. Indeed, it originated with the execution of four anarchists in Chicago in 1886 for organising workers in the fight for the eight-hour day. Thus May Day is a product of "anarchy in action" -- of the struggle of working people using direct action in labour unions to change the world ("Anarchism . . . originated in everyday struggles" -- Kropotkin)

It began in the 1880s in the USA. In 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada (created in 1881, it changed its name in 1886 to the American Federation of Labor) passed a resolution which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labour organisations throughout this district that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution." A call for strikes on May 1st, 1886 was made in support of this demand.

In Chicago the anarchists were the main force in the union movement, and partially as a result of their presence, the unions translated this call into strikes on May 1st. The anarchists thought that the eight hour day could only be won through direct action and solidarity. They considered that struggles for reforms, like the eight hour day, were not enough in themselves. They viewed them as only one battle in an ongoing class war that would only end by social revolution and the creation of a free society. It was with these ideas that they organised and fought.

In Chicago alone, 400 000 workers went out and the threat of strike action ensured that more than 45 000 were granted a shorter working day without striking. On May 3, 1886, police fired into a crowd of pickets at the McCormick Harvester Machine Company, killing at least one striker, seriously wounding five or six others, and injuring an undetermined number. Anarchists called for a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality. According to the Mayor, "nothing had occurred yet, or looked likely to occur to require interference." However, as the meeting was breaking up a column of 180 police arrived and ordered the meeting to end. At this moment a bomb was thrown into the police ranks, who opened fire on the crowd. How many civilians were wounded or killed by the police was never exactly ascertained.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. Meeting halls, union offices, printing shops and private homes were raided (usually without warrants). Such raids into working-class areas allowed the police to round up all known anarchists and other socialists. Many suspects were beaten up and some bribed. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was the public statement of J. Grinnell, the States Attorney, when a question was raised about search warrants.

Eight anarchists were put on trial for accessory to murder. No pretence was made that any of the accused had carried out or even planned the bomb. Instead the jury were told "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. They 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." The jury was selected by a special bailiff, nominated by the State's Attorney and was composed of businessmen and the relative of one of the cops killed. 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." Not surprisingly, the accused were convicted. Seven were sentenced to death, one to 15 years' imprisonment.

An international campaign resulted in two of the death sentences being commuted to life, but the worldwide protest did not stop the US state. Of the remaining five, one (Louis Lingg) cheated the executioner and killed himself on the eve of the execution. The remaining four (Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer) were hanged on November 11th 1887. They are known in Labour history as the Haymarket Martyrs. Between 150,000 and 500,000 lined the route taken by the funeral cortege and between 10,000 to 25,000 were estimated to have watched the burial.

In 1889, the American delegation attending the International Socialist congress in Paris proposed that May 1st be adopted as a workers' holiday. This was to commemorate working class struggle and the "Martyrdom of the Chicago Eight". Since then Mayday has became a day for international solidarity. In 1893, the new Governor of Illinois made official what the working class in Chicago and across the world knew all along and pardoned the Martyrs because of their obvious innocence and because "the trail was not fair".

The authorities had believed at the time of the trial that such persecution would break the back of the labour movement. They were wrong. In the words of August Spies when he addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die:

"If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement . . . the 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."

At the time and in the years to come, this defiance of the state and capitalism was to win thousands to anarchism, particularly in the US itself. Since the Haymarket event, anarchists have celebrated May Day (on the 1st of May -- the reformist unions and labour parties moved its marches to the first Sunday of the month). We do so to show our solidarity with other working class people across the world, to celebrate past and present struggles, to show our power and remind the ruling class of their vulnerability. As Nestor Makhno put it:

"That day those American workers attempted, by organising themselves, to give expression to their protest against the iniquitous order of the State and Capital of the propertied . . .

"The workers of Chicago . . . had gathered to resolve, in common, the problems of their lives and their struggles. . .

"Today too . . . the toilers . . . regard the first of May as the occasion of a get-together when they will concern themselves with their own affairs and consider the matter of their emancipation."

Anarchists stay true to the origins of May Day and celebrate its birth in the direct action of the oppressed. Oppression and exploitation breed resistance and, for anarchists, May Day is an international symbol of that resistance and power -- a power expressed in the last words of August Spies, chiselled in stone on the monument to the Haymarket martyrs in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago:

"The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

To understand why the state and business class were so determined to hang the Chicago Anarchists, it is necessary to realise they were considered the "leaders" of a massive radical union movement. In 1884, the Chicago Anarchists produced the world's first daily anarchist newspaper, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung. This was written, read, owned and published by the German immigrant working class movement. The combined circulation of this daily plus a weekly (Vorbote) and a Sunday edition (Fackel) more than doubled, from 13,000 per issues in 1880 to 26,980 in 1886. Anarchist weekly papers existed for other ethnic groups as well (one English, one Bohemian and one Scandinavian). As Martyr Oscar Neebe clearly argued, "these are the crimes I have committed: I organised trade unions. I was for reduction of the hours of labour, and the education of the labouring man, and the re-establishment of 'Die Arbeiter Zeitung', the workingmen' paper."

Anarchists were very active in the Central Labour Union (which included the eleven largest unions in the city) and aimed to make it, in the words of Albert Parsons (one of the Martyrs), "the embryonic group of the future 'free society.'" The anarchists were also part of the International Working People's Association (also called the "Black International") which had representatives from 26 cities at its founding convention. The I.W.P.A. soon made headway among trade unions, especially in the mid-west and its ideas of direct action of the rank and file and of trade unions serving as the instrument of the working class for the complete destruction of capitalism and the nucleus for the formation of a new society became known as the "Chicago Idea" (an idea which later inspired the Industrial Workers of the World which was founded in Chicago in 1905).

This idea was expressed in the manifesto issued at the I.W.P.A.'s Pittsburgh Congress of 1883:

"First -- Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means, i.e. by energetic, relentless, revolutionary and international action.

"Second -- Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organisation of production.

"Third -- Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organisations without commerce and profit-mongery.

"Fourth -- Organisation of education on a secular, scientific and equal basis for both sexes.

"Fifth -- Equal rights for all without distinction to sex or race.

"Sixth -- Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis."

In addition to their union organising, the Chicago anarchist movement also organised social societies, picnics, lectures, dances, libraries and a host of other activities. These all helped to forge a distinctly working-class revolutionary culture in the heart of the "American Dream." The threat to the ruling class and their system was too great to allow it to continue (particularly with memories of the vast uprising of labour in 1877 still fresh. As in 1886, that revolt was also meet by state violence). Hence the repression, kangaroo court, and the state murder of those the state and capitalist class considered "leaders" of the movement.

The Chicago anarchists, like all anarchists, were applying their ideas to the class struggle. They were forming unions organised and animated with the libertarian spirit. They saw that anarchism was not a utopian dream but rather a means of action -- of (to use Bakunin's words) "creating not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself" by means of direct action, solidarity and organising from the bottom up. That was why they were effective and why the state framed and murdered them.

On the anniversary of the first May Day, we must apply our anarchist ideas to everyday life and the class struggle, inside and outside industry, in order to make anarchism a possibility. As Kropotkin put it, "anarchism was born among the people; and it will continue to be full of life and creative power only as long as it remains a thing of the people."

Reclaim the anarchist spirit of May Day. Make everyday an International Day of solidarity and direct action!

More writings from Anarcho

author by anarchistpublication date Sat Apr 29, 2006 10:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"To understand why the state and business class were so determined to hang the Chicago Anarchists, it is necessary to realise they were considered the 'leaders' of a massive radical union movement. "

Except that Adolf Fischer and George Engel weren't union organizers and didn't support the proto-anarcho-syndicalist strategy of Albert Parsons and others. Fischer and Engel thought that unions could not be instruments of revolutionary struggle because of their bureaucratic structure.

See Paul Avrich's "The Haymarket Tragedy".

author by W.S.A. - Workers Solidarity Alliancepublication date Sat Apr 29, 2006 11:08author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Workers Solidarity Alliance sends all our May Day greetings to all.

Let the anarchist tradition of the Haymarket Matyrs once again be known and an anarchist inspired revolutionary workers movement be built.

Let no worker be "illegal" and in fear for their life and livelihood.

No War But Class War!

Make every day May Day!

Yours in solidarity, internationalism and for self-management


339 Lafayette Street-Room 202
New York, NY 10012
tel. (212) 979-8353

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author by W.S.A. - Workers Solidarity Alliancepublication date Mon May 01, 2006 11:11author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dear Brothers & Sisters,

Our friends at Make The Road By Walking/Workers in Action and NY IWW have asked us to forward this message. Please send protest faxes to the bosses of Amersino (718-497-9550) on May Day.

Please forward this email to others you may know who can be of help.

Your support and solidarity is essential.

In solidarity,

NY-NJ Workers Solidarity Alliance

-----Forwarded Message-----

IWW/Make-the-Road-by-Walking Amersino Workers Locked Out After Rigged Union Election

On April 28th Workers at Amersino voted whether to join the Industrial Workers of the World. Throughout April, the boss made threats to fire the workers and close the warehouse. He bribed workers to not vote for the union. After weeks of this anti-union activity the boss unsurprisingly manipulated the election. Several of the votes were taken from managers or workers that do not work at that location. Also, around 10 pro-union worker's votes were withheld on the account that the boss claims they do not work at that location.

On April 29th, a day after the rigged election, two IWW activists in the shop were suspended without just cause. The Union workers walked out declaring that the group would not work unless the two workers return to the job. The boss quickly brought in scabs to replace the union workers, and laid hands on one union worker, though he backed off when confronted on it. Though many scab workers were talked out of work on Saturday we expect a full load of scabs again on Monday.

Support the Locked Out Amersino workers! On MAYDAY take a stand for justice at work and join our picket line!

5:30 AM till noon -- 161 Gardner Street between Metropolitan & Meadow
in Brooklyn (Greenpoint).
L train to Grand St. walk east on Grand over bridge and right on Gardner.

Or call Amersino at 718-821-3388 or fax 718-497-9550 demand returning the 2 fired workers to their jobs (see below) along with an end to violations of minimum wage and overtime laws, and respect from the boss.

info at

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author by Mitch - W.S.A.publication date Mon May 01, 2006 22:23author email wsany at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Dear comrades and friends,

This May 1st in the US will be a special one. For the first time in many years May Day rallies of some significance will be taking place.

We will be celebrating international workers day globally. Here in the US we will not only be celebrating May Day, we will also be fighting for immigrant rights all across the country.Some of these protests will be of a direct economic nature (such as strikes and boycotts), other much more of general rallies and protests. Either way, workers, both native and foriegn born, will be making a working class statement on this May Day 2006.

On this May 1st, let us remember the immigrant Haymarket Maytrs 120 years ago who sacrified with their lives in the struggle for the 8 hour day and for the liberation of the working class from tryanny.

Let us also remember and honor all the East and Southern European immigrants who came to the US a century ago and fought for a better life and inclusive unionism. And let us not forget our African-American sisters and brothers, many who were brought to the US in chains and shakles, and continue their fight for real and meaningful equality and freedom.

And on May 1st 2006, let us honor and support all the new immigrants who are struggling, as those in the past, for a new and better life.

From one generation to the next. From one race of worker to the next, our dreams, our desires and struggles will always be the same.

In solidarity,

Mitch M.
Workers Solidarity Alliance (personal capacity)

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