Summary: May Day statement from Nagpur, India – Editors
Today is 1st May, 2019. Workers all over the world are celebrating it as International Workers Day. Do we know how and when did it all begin?
It originated in the American city of Chicago with the movement of workers for 8 hours working day. In 1884 the American Federation of Labor (IFL) had passed a resolution which stated: “Eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labor organizations throughout this district that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution”. Next year the Federation repeated the proposal that 8 hours working day will go into effect from 1st of May 1886. It is worth noting that the union not only demanded 8 hours working day but declared that it would come into force from 1st of May 1886.
In those days American workers had to work for 10, 12, 14 hours a day. After this declaration by the Federation, workers movement for a working day of 8 hours took momentum. Along with the members of the Federation, hundreds of thousands of organized as well as unorganized workers joined the movement before May 1886.The main center of this movement was Chicago. In the front rank of the movement was “Central Labor Union of Chicago” which included 7 big unions in the city along with 22 more unions. The movement was led by the Anarchists (the revolutionaries within the workers movement who advocated immediate and complete abolition of the State).
Before this, during the Railroad strike of 1877, the workers were violently attacked by the Police and the Army. This time the Commercial Club of Chicago had purchased a machine gun worth $2000 and handed it over to the National Guard for use against the strikers. However, in spite of all the repressive measures, the workers movement in Chicago moved forward to success as May 1, 1886 approached. But on 3rd May police fired on the striking workers of McCormick Harvester Machine Company causing death to one worker, serious injuries to 5-6 workers and wounding several others. In protest against this police brutality, the Anarchists called for a mass meeting next day on 4th May at Haymarket Square.
The meeting at the Haymarket Square on 4th May was proceeding peacefully towards conclusion. The last speaker was delivering his speech. Due to rains the crowd had already thinned and only about 200 people remained to listen to the last speaker. At this moment about 180 policemen arrived at the square and ordered the meeting to disperse. As the meeting came to an end, someone threw a bomb on the policemen. One policeman died on the spot and 6 died later. 70 policemen were injured. In response, the police fired on the crowd. It was never known how many people died due to police firing, nor was it ever revealed who threw the bomb on the policemen. However, this incident was made into an excuse to target the entire working-class movement in Chicago along with the Anarchists. The homes and the offices of the worker activists were attacked and ruined. Hundreds of activists were arrested without any charges and the entire city was placed under a terror regime of the police. The workers colonies were raided and all the known Anarchists as well as the Socialists were picked up by the police.
The most active among the worker activists were framed in the Haymarket Bombing incident and charged with conspiracy to kill. The court held all the 8 accused as guilty, even though no evidence could be found against them. All of them were sentenced to death.
4 out of the 8 accused, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer and George Engle were hanged on 1st November 1887. Louis Lingg committed suicide inside jail. The remaining 3 were pardoned in 1893. The dead were handed over to their friends for burial. An estimated 150000 to 500000 people joined the funeral procession which was the largest in the history of Chicago.
Before being hanged, August Spies shouted from the gallows: “THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY”.
He was proved right. After the May Day episode, the working class built a powerful movement all over the world, participated in revolutions and faced all repression, suppression of democratic rights and economic crisis bravely. The struggle of the working class continues!
Along with the Trumpist dictatorship in America the Fascist forces in India too are moving towards a dictatorship of one party regime by utilizing the bourgeois parliamentary democracy. These fascist forces are launching violent attacks on the Immigrants, Muslims, Women, Political Opponents, Revolutionary Intellectuals and Worker Activists on the one hand, and on the other hand changing the existing labor laws (won through one hundred years of workers struggle) in the name of “easing business” so that an arbitrary “Hire and Fire” policy can become legal. There is a dismal scenario on the employment front as well, in fact the worst in the last 45 years. According to a survey conducted recently, as many as 50 00000 male workers have lost their jobs since demonetization of November 2016. The number is likely to be much higher if the women workers who have lost their jobs are counted. The attacks on the working class have been intensified to the extent that conspiracies are being hatched to deprive the workers of the right to form their own unions. One example is the inadvertence by the Haryana government to recognize the union formed by the workers themselves during their autonomous struggles in a Maruti–Suzuki car factory.
On this International Workers Day of 1st of May of 2009, let us take a pledge to intensify the ongoing struggles against the rule of Capital and continue our struggles till capitalism in all its forms are eliminated and a new society comes into being, free from all forms of exploitation and oppression based on the discrimination and antagonism of class, caste, race and sex – a society in harmony with nature and environment.
Workers Journal, Parivartan ki Disha, Nagpur