1 May is May Day

· 6 min read
1 May is May Day

The Melbourne North affiliate of ASF has celebrated and commemorated May Day on 1 May every year since 1986. The ASF celebrates all those achievements of the international working-class by their own efforts and commemorates all those workers not only fighting to improve their conditions of work who seek to end their exploitation and oppression by replacing the government of people with the administration of things once and for all.

We remember the repression of the Anarchists of Chicago who were campaigning for the 8-hour day and commemorate them for the efforts for which they paid with their lives. Gone but never forgotten.

Chicago, May 1886. In a city divided by bitter labour disputes and the
agitation for the eight hour day, police disperse a peaceful street meeting. A
bomb is thrown, killing one officer – other policemen and many workers die
as the police open fire at random.
This incident was used as a pretext for a sweeping crackdown on unions
and anarchists. Eight anarchists were accused, not of direct involvement,
but of the catch-all of conspiracy. They were accused and convicted on the
basis of their ideas alone: no credible evidence was produced to link them to
the bomb. Four of the eight (George Engel, Adolf Fischer, Albert Parsons
and August Spies) were judicially murdered on the 11th of November 1887.
One, Louis Lingg, cheated the gallows with the aid of dynamite. The three
remaining Haymarket accused (Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab and Oscar
Neebe) were given sentences of life and fifteen years. They were released in
1893 when Governor John P. Altgeld, in a moved which finished his
political career, exposed the state conspiracy which framed them.
The Haymarket tragedy was only one incident in the class war in
America, but it was adopted as a symbol by the working class movement:
anarchists, socialists, trade unionists. It gave rise to the international
celebration of the First of May, always a celebration of resistance for
anarchists and other working class rebels. For others it was a working-class
holiday, or worse: a celebration of either the Communist Party bureaucracy
after the rise of ‘Red Tsarism’ in Russia or the leadership of reformists who
made a nice living out of demanding ‘bigger cages, longer chains!’
Talk about ‘reclaiming Mayday’ is not new. It does not arise from
nostalgia for the 1880s, nor purely from a desire to remember our fallen
comrades. Mayday shows us that if we want to win meaningful reforms –
let alone a free society – we must fight the power of both state and capital;
we cannot expect them to fight fair, and we cannot trust leaders to win our
freedom for us. Mayday has a proud heritage of propaganda, protest and
revolt. This pamphlet shows a small part of that heritage. Looking at how
Mayday has been marked will not solve tactical questions in the here and
now. But we hope that looking at how and why it has been marked will also
inspire you to look forwards. - Kate Sharpley Library

"Friends, – The speakers of the evening not having arrived I shall entertain
you a few minutes. I am told that a number of patrol wagons, carrying
policemen, were sent to Desplaines street station, and I understand that the
militia have been called under arms. There seems to prevail the opinion in
certainquarters thatthis meetinghas been calledfor the purpose of
inaugurating a riot, hence these warlike preparations on the part of the so-
called ‘law and order.’ However, let me tell you at the beginning that this
meeting has not been called for any such purpose. The object of this
meeting is to explain the general situation of the eight-hour Movement, and
to throw light upon various incidents in connection with it.
For more than twenty years have the wage workers of this country
begged and prayed their masters, the factory lords, to reduce their burdens.
It has been in vain. They have pointed out the fact that over a million of
willing and strong hands were in a state of enforced idleness and starvation,
that to help them to obtain employment it would not only be advisable, nay,
it was necessary to reduce the hours of daily toil of those who were
fortunate enough in having found a buyer for their muscles, their bones, and
their brain. The masters of this earth have treated them with contempt, have
condemned them to vagabondage whenever they insisted. The legislatures
have been called upon, one petition has succeeded the other, but with no
unbearable. Seeing that neither ‘boss’ nor law would concede anything to
them, they have organized for the purpose of helping themselves – a wise
and prudent resolution.
All over the land we behold vast armies of producers, no longer begging,
working day. And what say the extortionists to this? They demand their
pound of flesh, like Shylock. They will not yield one iota. They have grown
rich and powerful on your labor. They amass stupendous fortunes, while
you, who bring them into existence, are suffering from want. In answer to
your pleadings they ask for the bodies of your little children, to utilize them
in their gold mints, to make dollars out of them! Look at the slaves of
McCormick! When they tried to remonstrate with their master he simply
called upon ‘the protectors of these free and glorious institutions’ – the
3police – to silence them.
You have no doubt heard of the killing and wounding of a number of
your brothers at McCormick’s yesterday. Mr. McCormick told aTimes
reporter that Spies was responsible for that massacre committed by the most
noble Chicago police. I reply to this that McCormick is an infamous liar.
(Cries of ‘Hang him.’) No, make no idle threats. There will be a time, and
we are rapidly approaching it, when such men as McCormick will be
hanged; there will be a time when monsters who destroy the lives and
happiness of the citizens (for their own aggrandizement) will be dealt with
like wild beasts. But that time has not yet come. When it has come you will
no longer make threats, but you will go and ‘do it.’
Thecapitalistic press,likethe ‘respectablegentleman’ McCormick,
howls that the Anarchists are responsible for the deeds of violence now
committed all over this country. If that were true one would have to
conclude that the country was full of Anarchists, yet the same press informs
us that the Anarchists are very few in number. Were the ‘unlawful’ acts in
the Southwestern strike committed by Anarchists? No, they were committed
by Knights of Labor, men who never fail to declare, whenever there is an
opportunity, that they are law-and-order-abiding citizens. The attack upon
McCormick’s yesterday – Was it made by Anarchists? Let us see. I had been
invited by the Central Labor Union to address a meeting of lumberyard
laborers on the Black road. I went out there yesterday at the appointed time,
about three o’clock in the afternoon. There were at least ten thousand
persons assembled. When I was introduced to address them a few Poles or
Bohemians in the crowd cried out: ‘He’s a Socialist.’ These cries were
followed by a general commotion and derision – ‘We want no Socialist;
down with him.’ These and other exclamations I was treated to. Of course, I
spoke anyway. The crowd became quiet and calm, and fifteen minutes later,
elected me unanimously a delegate to see their bosses. Nevertheless, you
can see that these people are not Socialists or Anarchists, but ‘good, honest,
law-abiding, church-going Christians and citizens.’ Such were the persons
wholeftthe meeting, as I afterwards learned, to ‘make the scabs at
McCormick’s quit work.’ In my speech I never mentioned McCormick.
Now you may judge for yourselves whether the Anarchists were responsible
for the bloodshed yesterday or not.
Who is responsible of these many ‘lawless’ acts, you ask me? I have told
you that they are generally committed by the most lawful and Christian
4citizens. In other words, the people are by necessity driven to violence, they
can’t carry the burden heaped upon them any longer. They try to cast it off,
and in so doing break the laws. The law says they must not cast it off, for
such an act would alter, yea, revolutionize the existing order of society!
These acts of violence are the natural outgrowth of the present industrial
system, and every one is responsible for them who supports and upholds
that system.
What does it mean when the police of this city, on this evening, rattle
along in their patrol wagons?
What does it mean when the militia stands warlike and ready for bloody
work at our armories?
What are the gatling guns and cannons for?
Is this military display of barbarism arranged for your entertainment?
All these preparations, my friends, ARE made in your behalf.
Your masters have perceived your discontent.
They do not like discontented slaves.
They want to make you contented at all hazards, and if you are stubborn
they will force or kill you.
Look at the killing of your brothers at McCormick’s yesterday. What did
they do? The police tell you that they were a most dangerous crowd, armed
to their teeth. The fact is, they, like ignorant children, indulged in the
harmless sport of bombarding McCormick’s slaughter house with stones.
They paid the penalty of this folly with their blood.
The lesson I draw from this occurrence is, that working men must arm
government hirelings of their masters."

- Speech by August Spies, one of the Haymarket Martyrs, 4 May 1886.