May, first Its origin, its meaning, its fights – hapters 3 and 4

por Memória Sindical. 15 maio 2016 . 13:22

It finally dawns the May first of 1886. The trade union organizations had released the unitary word of order:
“Since today none worker may work more than eight hours a day.
Eight hours of work!
Eight hours of rest!
Eight hours of education!”

Chapter 3

The International

In 1862, a delegation of French textile workers goes to London to visit the international exposition. There they keep in touch with their English fellows to discuss the serious crisis that racked the European textile industry, because of the lack of feedstock (cotton) because of the North-American civil war. In this opportunity, it appears the proposal of summon up a national meeting with the objective of creating a center of coordination and information for the proletariat of different Countries.

And this way it will be done. In September twenty eight of 1864, at Saint Martin’s Hall, in London, the meeting takes place. The opening is made by Marx, who calls out: “The emancipation of the working class must be done by itself”. The conclave ends with the foundation of the Workers International Association (AIT), known after as the First International. In this meeting, Marx exposes about the reduction of the time of labor, making it in general way. There was no specific resolution about the subject.

In the next congress of the International, in the week from September three to eight of 1886 in Geneva, for the first time it is discussed in an international plenary the matter of the eight hours. Eugène Dupon, delegate representative of Marx – who could not appear -, proposes the following motion, which was approved:

“1). The congress considers the reduction of the hours of labor as the first step for the workers’ emancipation.
2). As principle, the work of eight hours must be considered enough.
3). No to the night work, except in the specific cases by law”.

They honor the ones who kill

The International tries with all its forces to reduce the exhaustive hours of labor, in general with few successes. The debate happens in several countries, but it keeps its center in France. And the repression is always a constant. Let us see two examples of 1869. In June, the miners of Saint Etiènne go on strike, the military troops arrive and the women and children stand up over the soldiers and shout: “Fire, if you dare”. The rifles spit. Result: thirteen dead and nine injured. In October, it is the time of the mines of Aubin: fourteen dead and twenty injured. And the official who ordered the massacre is honored.

Parallel to the war between the classes, it thickens the danger of chock among the countries. In July of 1870, it explodes the conflict between the imperial France of Napoleon 3, willing to reinforce the power and make forget his innumerable failures in the foreign policy and the Prussia led by Bismarck, who looks for the hegemony among all the German States.

The International releases appeals and promotes meetings among French and German workers trying to avoid the war, but without success. The France of the “small” Napoleon shows quickly all its unprepared and debility. In few weeks, the troops of its army are swept away by the almost perfect Prussian troops.

The Commune of Paris: the first proletarian government of History

The happenings rushed. In September of the same year it is proclaimed the French Third Republic, while Paris is surrounded by the Prussians. The population keeps resisting with huge sacrifices. In February of 1871, assumes the leadership of the government Adolfo Thiers (1797-1877), old conservative, one of the responsible for the repression of 1848. The Paris working class one more time rebels and occupy the urbe in March eighteen. However, this time it does not pass the power to bourgeoisies’ chains. It constitutes its own power: decrees the Commune. It is, according to Marx expression, “the assault to heaven”. And it is constituted the first proletarian government of History.

The program of the Commune determinates: “Land to the peasants, instruments of production to workers and work for all”. Over the formidable spectacle of the taken of the power to the proletariat, Thiers and Bismarck agree to each other. The Prussians allow that the French army abandon the front to smash the revolutionary Paris. The hate of the classes struggle overcomes the war between the States.

At May 28, after one hundred glorious days, the Commune is destroyed. The revenge of the bourgeoisie is terrible and bloody. Thirty thousand workers are shot: men, women and children over twelve years old whose crime was to be workers; and also, old with white hair, guilty of having seen two insurrections during their life. Many other thousand are deported to remote islands of the Pacific Ocean.

After the genocide, the Senate of the Brazilian empire, rejoicing by the barbarian smash of the Commune approves the following motion: “That the Senate is associated to the Chamber of the gentlemen deputies in the manifestation of the feeling of horror against the anarchy that had just destroyed the most beautiful part of the French capital, congratulating by the victory of the cause of civilization and the principles of Christianism and sending to consign in record this solemn statement”.

The Commune did not get to discuss the time of work – it did not have the opportunity, because all its efforts were dedicated to defense, and the proletariat were upset until it gets to the limit of its forces to defend its achievements and the government.

The starting point of the insurrection becomes Germany

The French proletariat gets out destroyed of this experience, and the axis of the movement moves to Germany. The International also gets weak with the setback and its internal discordances become more acute. We shall talk about them, because they after will have repercussion in the born Brazilian proletariat. Among so many tendencies in the breast of the association, with the time two of them are shown dominant: the anarchist and the Marxist.

It was the German Max Stiner (1806-1856), with the work The Unique and the Property, to structure the conjunct of notions which would give origin to the anarchism. However, the promoter of this doctrine ends up being the Russian Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), character of appreciable fascination, who soon creates a substantial line of followers.

Marx and Bakunin: unethical moments in the maturation of the revolutionary fight

With Marx, the two divide the common objective of putting down the existing bourgeois order and the creation of a society with no classes and collectivist. In the rest, they diverge. Marx points the industrial proletarian as protagonist force of the transformations. Bakunin sees in the most explored sectors or in the poor and peasants this force. Marx believes that the proletariat must organize and take part in the political fight to change the correlation of forces. Bakunin denies any political participation. Marx thinks that it is indispensable that the proletariat takes the State and use it, changing it, to smash the unavoidable counterrevolution. Bakunin denounces all kind of State as oppressor. Marx is for the socialization of the production assets and for the centralized planning. Bakunin, for a federation of free communes self-managed.

While the Marxism grows among the working classes of the most developed Countries, the anarchism creates roots in the most backward Countries, as Italy, Spain and Portugal.

To scape of the climate of persecution suffered in Europe, the majority of the delegates who meet in the congress of Hague, in 1872, decide that the national headquarter will be transferred to New York, in the United States. And the last meeting in this Country takes place in Philadelphia, in July of 1876, while then the International dissolves.

Now, we cross the Atlantic, together with the central headquarter of the International, to see the development of the working class and its fights in the north of the American continent.

Chapter 4

The Drama

The future homeland of the vanguard capitalism anticipated to the big social crisis

The United States appear as independent nation in 1776, after breaking colony bounds with England. Soon they put themselves in the path of the strong capitalist growth. Between 1820 and 1860 the population passes from 9,6 million to 31,3 million, thanks to the strong immigratory flow, mainly of Irish, German and Scandinavian. This mass concentrates mainly in the States of the North of the Federation, where, on the contrary of what happens in the South, the still existent slavery is very weak.

The immigrants constitute the fundamental labor in the born North-American factories. Together with them comes Robert Owen, the utopic socialist to whom we already referred, the one who tries to create equalitarian colonies in lands of the New World. He had started his experience in New Harmony in May first 1825. In few years, all his attempts will reveal frustrated, but this date has symbolic value, because it refers to the first try of political organization of core worker in the United States.

The condition of workers is in general identic to the Europeans – interminable hours of work and wages which do not possibility even the reproduction of labor. In 1827, carpenters, masons, cabinetmakers and glaziers of Philadelphia makes the first strike, and create the Union of Trade Associations of Philadelphia. It is the born of the North-American union movement, although still very weak. In 1842, after several petitions, it is vote the law of ten hours daily of labor for children, valid for the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Three years after it happens the first North-American workers congress, which defends in its platform the fight for the ten hours’ workload for all. The State of New Hampshire accepts this claim, but the constant arrival of new immigrants and the usury of the bosses invalid the law.

The industrialized North and the agrarian and slavery South enter in civil war in 1861, after four long and dramatic years, the South is defeated and ends the slavery with the liberation of all the forces of the nation for the development of the capitalist relations of production. With the comeback of the soldiers to the civil life and the demobilization of the factories, the need for new jobs grows and the social pressure for the diminution of the hours of labor increases to find positions for the ex-combatants.

In August of 1866, the workers congress of Baltimore discuss these problems and adopts the following resolution: “The first and great need of the present, to release the work of this Country of the capitalist slavery, is the promulgation of a law in which eight hours may constitute the normal workload in all the States of the North-American Union. We are decided to focus all our force until it is reached this glorious result”.

In these same days, the International, in its congress in Geneva, had assumed similar position and maybe few participants of the two meetings had news that, in other part of the globe, in Australia, the masons – first category of workers to appear in the world – had juts achieved the eight hours’ workload.

In June twenty five, 1868, the American Senate approves the law Ingersoll, which determined the eight hours of labor to all employees of the Union. But this law will not have application, because, by pretext of particular demands which become general rule, the workloads continue the same as always.

An agency to hunt rebel workers

In 1877, the railways paralyze the system of transport demanding the eight hours. The response is aggressive and workers have to regret thirty dead among their colleagues. In this time, it appears the group self-named the “Defenders of Order”, created by a gentleman called Nat Pinkerton. This agency before specialized in hunting criminals by the West, now it becomes sadly famous by the anger it shows collaborating with the bosses and the police in the repression to the workers’ movement.

On the other hand, the main organization of workers are the Knights of Labor which appeared as a secret group in 1869 comes to own more than seven hundred thousand adherents. In 1881, it born the American Federation of Labor (AFL) of corporate and reclamation character. In its programmatic statement, it says: “We declare that the eight hours’ workload will allow to give more work for better wages and it will create the necessary conditions for education and intellectual improve of the masses (…)”.

In November of 1884, the AFL promotes a congress in Chicago. There, the Secretary Frank K. Foster manifests, in his speech, his discredit that the Parliament comes to one day to promulgate the law of the eight hours. He continues saying that, according to his opinion, it is no use keep on pressuring the government and that the coercion should be exercised directly against the bosses. He finishes proposing the realization of a national general strike to reach the objective of the eight hours of labor daily. The cabinetmaker leader Gabriel Edmonston suggests that workers consider normal the eight hours’ workload for all categories, from May first 1886 and that be automatically paralyzed the services in the places in which this determination is no accepted.

This proposal is approved by the assembly. It was a tough, radical decision, hard to be put in practice. Such the AFL as the Knights of Labor release to the mobilization of all categories of workers in all national territory. They will be helped by the long time for the preparation that they have: one year and a half. By the measure that the fateful date approaches, the nervousness increases. The President of Republic himself, S. G. Cleveland (1837-1908) stays apprehensive. In April 1886, violent strikes explode in several places. Several entrepreneurs give in and accept to sign contracts of eight hours of labor.

1886 year one of the International Labor Day, a historic date

It finally dawns the May first of 1886. The trade union organizations had released the unitary word of order:

“Since today none worker may work more than eight hours a day.
Eight hours of work!
Eight hours of rest!
Eight hours of education!”

Hundreds of thousands of people abandon the factories. Demonstrations happens in the main centers, in a truly babel of languages which reflected the origin of the immigrants. It was only a minority that paralyzed work, but the impact was tremendous. The history still had not known this kind of fight and the acquired victories were consistent. Many States approved the law of the eight hours, others shortened the workload for ten hours, but with substantial wage increase.

Chicago is not only the center of mafia and the organized crime

To obtain this triumph, the price paid is very high, happening reefs in several places. In Milwaukee, it falls nine victims. However, the main battle field is Chicago. This city, which is in the South side of the lake Michigan, constantly covered by natural or coming from the chimney of the factories fog, is in the vanguard of the American capitalism. There the workers are used from fourteen to sixteen hours a day, live thrown in sordid alleys and are considered as dogs by an opulent, arrogant, racist and religiously fanatic bourgeoisie.

One of the newspaper which represents them, the Chicago Times, in the weeks before the May first released a series of articles of clear terrorist character, in which there were literary pearls as: “The prison and forced labor are the only possible solution for the social matter. It is need that these means are more used”. Let us see another: “The only way of cure workers of pride is to reduce then to human machines, and the better food that strikers may have is lead”. This is what is called to speak clearly!

In contraposition, Chicago is also at that time the center of the anarchism in North America. And there are important workers’ newspapers, as the Arbeiter Zeitung and the Verboten, both in German language, directed respectively by August Spies and Michel Schwab. It may not cause surprise the fact that they are written in German, because it is very big the number of immigrants come from Germanic State. In English language, the main newspaper is the Alarm, directed by Albert Parsons, one of the most prestigious union leaders and founder of the Central Union.

The Saturday, May first of 1886 is a day different of the others to Chicago. Since the morning, it reigns a big silence. The factories, the transports and the commerce are paralyzed. But the newspapers are sold. In the editorial of the Mail, other pamphlet of the bosses, it could be read: “It circulate freely in this city two dangerous disqualified individuals, two scoundrels who want to create disorder. One is called Spies and the other is Parsons… Watch them, follow them, consider them responsible if something happens. And if something occurs, that they may pay for that”.

Then, the environment of tension and silence is broken when through the Avenue Michigan it comes up a splendid march – tens of thousands of workers with their families walk heading to the Haymarket Square. Parsons open the march, with his wife and seven years old daughter, Lulu. They come surrounded by the leaders of the AFL and the Knights of Labor. It follows the several colonies, with their typical costumes: Germans, Polishes, Russians, Italians, Irish etc. On the top of the buildings and corners are the men of the National Guard and the Pinkerton Agency. The demonstration ends with an ardent rally in which speech orators of the several nationalities. After, the crowd dissolves peacefully.

The bosses’ Staff fells deceived by this serene conclusion and plans provocations. On Monday, day three, the strike continues in many establishments. Over the factory, McCormick Harvester, the police shoots without previous warning against a group of workers. Six of them fall without life; fifty are injured and hundreds of them are arrested. Spies, who was close to the place of the massacre, appeals for the realization of a concentration to happen in the next afternoon. The anger and pain swell the hearts. The Arbeiter Zeitung stamps: “The war of classes started… Who can deny that the tigers who govern us are avid for the workers’ blood. Better death than misery”.

Despite the revolt, the leaders call to calm and ask an orderly demonstration to reaffirm the pacific character of the demonstrations. Parsons appeal to the workers to take also their small children, and, giving the example, will take his. In the same Haymarket Square, where Saturday morning they found themselves happy and festive, now, Tuesday, at seven and a half pm., with the nocturnal shadows which start to come confusing with mourning, the workers gather to cry their dead.

A bath of blood

The orators are Spies, Parsons and Sam Fielden. They ask for calm and incite all to continue the fight united and compact. When the concentration starts to disperse, a group of one hundred and eighty policemen attacks with violence, beating, trampling, hurting all indistinctively. In this instant, a bomb, coming do not know from where, blows in the middle of the guards. About sixty fall injured, several will die on following in consequence of the injuries. It is the sign of carnage. Reinforces come and start to shoot in all directions. Hundreds of people of all ages fall. The blood soaks the stones of the streets. The shouts of the injured cover the whispers of the dying. In few minutes, everything ends.

it was never possible to investigate how many were dead in that damned day, because the bodies were buried hidden. Securely it was tens. It is decreed state of siege and the prohibition to go out to the streets. Thousand workers are arrested, many union headquarters torched. Groups of foolish, paid by the bosses, invade the poor houses beating and destroying the few things and people they find.

All the “important” press focus its attacks against the “red terrorists”. The machine of “justice” was quick. It led to judgment a group of union leaders: August Spies, Sam Fielden, Oscar Neeb, Adolph Fischer, Michel Schwab, Louis Ling, and George Engel.

The judgement starts at the twenty-one of June of 1886. Soon in the opening, Albert Parsons, who could manage to scape of prison, presents himself. He enters in the court and declares: “I came to be processed, excellence”, turning to the judge Joseph Gary “together with my innocent fellows”. The farce unrolls quickly. Proves and witness are invented. The truly meaning of this court is revealed in the words of one of the sworn: “Let them be hanged. They are men too much developed, too much smart. Too much dangerous for our privileges”.

The sentence is read at October, nine. Parsons, Engel, Fischer, Lingg, Spies are condemned to death; Fielden and Schwab, to life imprisonment and Neeb to fifteen years of prison. But the statements of the condemned are a pure reprove to the system. In first place talks Neeb: “I committed a big crime, excellence. I saw the clerks of this city work until nine or ten at night. I threw an appeal for the organization of the category and now they work until seven at night; on Sundays, they are free. And it is a big crime”. On following, he asks to be hang with the fellows, because he cannot be more innocent than the others, since all are completely innocent.

Only the coward does not denounce the social misery

In a muffled, crowded, silently room Spies make the last defense: “If with our hanging, you think in destroying the workers’ movement – this movement of which millions of humiliated beings, who suffer in poverty and misery, wait the redemption -, if this is your opinion, hang us. There you will have put out a spark, but there and over there, behind and in front of you, in all the parts, the flames will grow. It is an underground fire, and you may not put it out”. With the same dignity of the other, Lingg express himself: “Allow that I assure you that I die happy because I am right that hundred, thousand people to whom I spoke will remember my words”. Parsons will speech for hours, starting this way: “Blast off your necessity and your fear of be slave, bread is freedom, freedom is bread”. After he makes a long report of the workers’ actions, unmask with minutiae the bosses’ conspiracy and speaks about his ideal: “The property of the machines as privilege of some few is what we combat, the monopoly of the same, this is what we fight against. We desire that all the forces of nature, that all the social forces, this giant force, product of work and intelligence of the past generations, are made available to men, submitted to men forever. This and no other is the objective of the socialism”.

One month after, in November eleven, in the half of a pale day blown by a cold wind of the lake, Spies, Engel, Fischer and Parsons are led to the courtyard of the prison to be executed. Lingg is not among them, because he had managed to suicide. They tie their hands and feet. The executioner pass the rope by their neck and continues the horrible ritual with the opening of the trapdoors one by one. The last words of Spies are: “Goodbye, our silence will be much more potent than the voices you hang”. Engel says only: “Viva the anarchy!”. Fischer, with lost eyes, as if he had the gift of seen the future, whispers: “This is the happiest day of my life”. As to Parsons, the executioner is too quick. We do not understand well what he means. It starts something like this: “Let me speak to my people…” – and the rope stranglers him.

While this, in the places of work tears run silently for the brothers who die. The bourgeois Chicago whispers relieved. Despite as impressive intimidating apparatus, six thousand workers carry fondly the mortal remains of the martyrs.

Six years after the assassination of State, the governor of Illinois, Atgeld, pressured by the persistent wave of protests against the iniquity of the process, releases the three survivors and accuses the judge, the sworn and the fake witness of infamy.

The seed released already sprouts, grows and will give its fruits. They were to transform in the symbol of fight of all workers of the world. When the AFL makes its congress in December, 1888, to make a balance of the happenings of the last years, appears the proposal of making a new general strike in May first of 1890, in order to extend the eight hours’ workload to the zones that had not achieved it yet. Such fact, although it was not in the plans of the organizers, will have world repercussion.

It is up to satisfy a curiosity. Why, in the congress of the AFL of November of 1884 it was proposed the May first of 1886 as the beginning of the fight for the eight hours’ workload? Strictly speaking we do not know, because in the records of the meeting there is not about it. It is very likely that it was to celebrate some of the happenings we already referred to. The most likely is that this date was linked to the fact that in the States of New York and Pennsylvania this day was called moving day, this is the date they celebrated the contracts of labor. This explains also why during the time that passed between the decision of making the strike and its execution; to give not only time to the unions organize, but also to the bosses to restructure their companies in different operating hours, in a way to come to the day of the collective contract in condition to accept the eight hours.

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