Strikes, Protests, and Revolutionaries: The First May Day

Socialism 2017

August 15, 2017

On May 1, 1886, at least 190,000 workers went on strike for the eight-hour workday across the country. In Chicago, police attacked striking workers, leading to the death of several workers. When a bomb was thrown killing dozens of police at a demonstration on May 4—no one knows for sure whether it was thrown by an angry demonstrator or a police provocateur—the city government initiated a reign of terror against workers. Eight anarchist and socialist leaders, among them Albert Parsons and August Spies, were put on trial and convicted of “conspiracy to commit murder,” though they had no connection to the bombing. On November 11, 1887, four of the Haymarket defendants were hanged. In his final speech to the court, August Spies declared, “If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement...then hang us! Here you will tread upon 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.” This talk will examine the history of May Day most of us never get to hear.

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