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"The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!"

These words were shouted into the crisp, cold Chicago air on November 11, 1887 by an anarchist labor organizer, August Spies, just before he and three others of the eight fellow anarchist defendants were brutally hanged, then left to gruesomely dangle under the gallows while slowly choking to death by the nooses around their necks. After an international outcry, the death sentences of two of the eight defendants were commuted to life in prison, another was given a sentence of 15 years, while a third took his own life in his cell rather than face his execution. The three who were imprisoned served 6 years until pardoned by Governor Altgeld, who said the trial was characterized by "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge". New Picture (1)

All eight were widely considered to be innocent of the crime they were accused of committing. During the trial, 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."

In the moments before their deaths, the four men to be hanged stood on the gallows platform and sang the Marseillaise, which was an anthem popular with the revolutionary workers movement at the time, especially among anarchists. It became an iconic moment around the world which was etched into the history of the worker's rights movement.

Who were these men?

For those who don't know the story, which is known as the Haymarket affair, these courageous men, all anarchists, were trade union organizers who were falsely convicted of the crime of throwing a bomb, on May 4th, 1886, into the midst of 180 Chicago police who had marched in to break up a peaceful public assembly of demonstrating workers. The explosion killed one officer, fatally wounded six others, and injured 70 more -- members of the same police force which, on the day before, on May 3rd, had shot and killed a striking worker and wounded several others during a scuffle at the picket line. After the bomb went off, the police then randomly opened fire into the crowd of workers, killing at least four and wounding countless others. These events had been sparked by a general strike called by the American Federation of Labor to demand an 8 hour workday, which occurred days before on May 1st, 1886. The strike was national, and 400,000 workers participated in the Chicago strike alone.

"Reliable witnesses testified that all the pistol flashes came from the center of the street, where the police were standing, and none from the crowd. Moreover, initial newspaper reports made no mention of firing by civilians. A telegraph pole at the scene was filled with bullet holes, all coming from the direction of the police."  http://en.wikipedia.org/...
The unfortunate truth of this awful event is that the eight men were convicted with no evidence other having a history of being anarchist labor organizers. Various theories exist which speculate as to whom the bomber was, with historians still arguing over the case, but most don't hold the accused responsible for the bombing. Workers around the world were glued to the unfolding events of the trial, and were aghast that these men were found guilty based on a witch hunt by authorities who admitted openly that despite lack of evidence, they wanted to set an example with a conviction.

After the Haymarket catastrophe, the enraged press and religious leaders were calling for punishment, and socialists, anarchists and labor activists were the target. Officers stormed into meeting halls, offices, and private residences, rounding up and arresting activists and even bystanders indiscriminately. Julius Grinnell, the state's attorney, publicly commented, "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards".

They eventually arrested eight men for being "accessories to murder", the names of whom are Spies, Fielden, Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.

In the Chicago courts, juries were usually chosen by randomly drawing names from a box of prospective jurors, but state's attorney Grinnel and the Court nominated and appointed a special bailiff to hand pick the candidates. This bailiff, not even feigning impartially, publicly declared that "I am managing this case and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death".  Despite this development, the defense counsel was disallowed by the court to present the bailiff's compromising statement as evidence.

The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in Haymarket Square that evening.

No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor Harrison described the speeches as "tame". No proof was offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.

The injustice of the hangings fueled the passion that surrounds the tradition of the annual May 1st commemorations of the labor movement, known as International Worker's Day, which has been observed around the world ever since. The events which led up to the trail and hangings, known as the Haymarket affair, were instrumental in establishing May 1st as a historical date of significance.

A Brief Excerpt of the History

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 [for strikes by the AFL] into strikes [in the Chicago area] 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.

Haymarket Martyrs Monument

Haymarket_Martyr's_Memorial

In the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, a monument was erected in 1893 to commemorate the seven defendants (see photo, right). The monument is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The actual site of the incident is listed as a Chicago Landmark, where, in 2004, a sculpture was erected to commemorate the victims.  

Recognition as an International Worker's Day

In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests.[5] May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International's second congress in 1891.[citation needed]

Subsequently, the May Day Riots of 1894 occurred. In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on "all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." The congress made it "mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers."

In many countries, the working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups.

Why Labor Day is not held on May Day in the United States
In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. After the Haymarket Square riot in May, 1886, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to support the Labor Day that the anti-anarchist union the Knights Of Labor supported.

Right-wing governments have traditionally sought to repress the message behind International Workers' Day, with fascist governments in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain abolishing the workers' holiday, and the Conservative party in the UK currently [2011] attempting to abolish the UK's annual May Day Bank Holiday.

More History Below the Fold:

Following is a repost of a pamphlet that is available for free, open distribution by anyone from The Struggle Site

The Origins of Mayday, the International Worker's Day

Not many people know why May Day became International Workers Day and why we should still celebrate it.< It all began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted an historic resolution which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1st, 1886".

In the months prior to this date workers in there thousands were drawn into the struggle for the shorter day. Skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native and immigrant were all becoming involved.

Chicago

In Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike. A newspaper of that city reported that "no smoke curled up from the tall chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a Sabbath-like appearance". This was the main centre of the agitation, and here the anarchists were in the forefront of the labour movement. It was to no small extent due to their activities that Chicago became an outstanding trade union centre and made the biggest contribution to the eight-hour movement.

When on May 1st 1886, the eight hour strikes convulsed that city, one half of the workforce at the McCormick Harvester Co. came out. Two days later a mass meeting was held by 6,000 members of the 'lumber shovers' union who had also come out. The meeting was held only a block from the McCormick plant and was joined by some 500 of the strikers from there.

The workers listened to a speech by the anarchist August Spies, who has been asked to address the meeting by the Central Labour Union. While Spies was speaking, urging the workers to stand together and not give in to the bosses, the strikebreakers were beginning to leave the nearby McCormick plant.

The strikers, aided by the 'lumber shovers' marched down the street and forced the scabs back into the factory. Suddenly a force of 200 police arrived and, without any warning, attacked the crowd with clubs and revolvers. They killed at least one striker, seriously wounded five or six others and injured an indeterminate number.

Outraged by the brutal assaults he had witnessed, Spies went to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (a daily anarchist newspaper for German immigrant workers) and composed a circular calling on the workers of Chicago to attend a protest meeting the following night.

The protest meeting took place in the Haymarket Square and was addressed by Spies and two other anarchists active in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.

The police attack

Throughout the speeches the crowd was orderly. Mayor Carter Harrison, who was present from the beginning of the meeting, concluded that "nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference". He advised police captain John Bonfield of this and suggested that the large force of police reservists waiting at the station house be sent home.

It was close to ten in the evening when Fielden was closing the meeting. It was raining heavily and only about 200 people remained in the square. Suddenly a police column of 180 men, headed by Bonfield, moved in and ordered the people to disperse immediately. Fielden protested "we are peaceable".

Bomb

At this moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police. It killed one, fatally wounded six more and injured about seventy others. The police opened fire on the spectators. How many were wounded or killed by the police bullets was never exactly ascertained.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. The press and the pulpit called for revenge, insisting the bomb was the work of socialists and anarchists. Meeting halls, union offices, printing works and private homes were raided. All known socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Even many individuals ignorant of the meaning of socialism and anarchism were arrested and tortured. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was the public statement of Julius Grinnell, the state's attorney.

Trial

Eventually eight men stood trial for being "accessories to murder". They were Spies, Fielden, Parsons, and five other anarchists who were influential in the labour movement, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.

The trial opened on June 21st 1886 in the criminal court of Cooke County. The candidates for the jury were not chosen in the usual manner of drawing names from a box. In this case a special bailiff, nominated by state's attorney Grinnell, was appointed by the court to select the candidates. 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".

Rigged jury

The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in Haymarket Square that evening.

No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor Harrison described the speeches as "tame". No proof was offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.

Sentenced

That the eight were on trial for their anarchist beliefs and trade union activities was made clear from the outset. The trial closed as it had opened, as was witnessed by the final words of Attorney Grinnell's summation speech to the jury. "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. There 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."

On August 19th seven of the defendants were sentenced to death, and Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for their release, the state 'compromised' and commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.

Pardoned

600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The campaign to free Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued.

On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set them free. He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. They and the hanged men had ben the victims of "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge".

The authorities has believed at the time of the trial that such persecution would break the back of the eight-hour movement. Indeed, evidence later came to light that the bomb may have been thrown by a police agent working for Captain Bonfield, as part of a conspiracy involving certain steel bosses to discredit the labour movement.

When Spies addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die, he was confident that this conspiracy would not succeed. "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".

Originally posted to ZhenRen on Wed May 01, 2013 at 02:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat.

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