“On the evening of May 4, 1886, a meeting was called for Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest the killing of four strikers at the McCormick Harvester Works the day before. It was a peaceful meeting, and had dwindled from several thousand to a few hundred when a detachment of 180 policemen asked the crowd to disperse. The speaker said that the meeting was almost over and then a bomb exploded in the midst of the police, wounding sixty-six policemen, of whom seven later died. The police fired into the crowd, killing several people, wounding two hundred. Although there was no evidence of who threw the bomb, eight Chicago anarchists were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. This became known worldwide as the Haymarket Affair.
Four of the eight were executed, among them August Spies, who here addresses the court in his own defense1. Just before his execution Spies said:
“There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
From Voices of A People’s History, edited by Zinn and Arnove
History is a Weapon –“Address of August Spies”
I.W.W. – The Brief Origins of May Day
“In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.
At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers’ lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.”