By ALDWIN G. QUITASOL
First of two parts
If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean they ca tie with mighty chains.
Evry wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;
Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still. — Joe Hill
May 1 is the International Worker’s Day or Labor day. To many people, it’s simply a holiday where there will be no work unless employers are willing to pay double their employee’s wage for that day. But to the working class, it is the most significant day of their ranks.
Every year, workers not only here in the Philippines but also in many countries commemorate Labor Day with rallies and political programs. The workers will air their issues and situations at work, and the strengthening of untiy and solidarity within their ranks as well as with other sectors and groups.
More than a century ago, workers in factories worked for 12 to 18 hours or more for lesser pay. Workers that time worked not to live but seemed to die as they work for long hours, few hours of sleep and hunger because of meager pay or none at all.
Before the workers developed a class consciousness, they aspired for freedom and eduaction. They already had the consciousness of freeing themselves from their oppression.
During that era, the spirit of proletarianism among the workers was spreading fast even after the many bloody suppressions by government agents and capitalists’ goons against them. On May 1, 1886, the workers in Chicago and other parts of the United States of America staged a general strike on the streets. Their aim was to demand for the reduction of long working hours to eight hours.
More than 11,000 workers marched the streets of Detroit while their 25,000 colleagues in New York carrying marchup from Broadway to Union Square while 40,000 more struck. Meanwhile in Cincinatti, rallying workers were singing union songs while being led by a battalion of workers armed with Springfield Rifles.
More than 6,000 workers in Louisville, Kentucky both black and whites marched through the National Park deliberately breaking that park’s Jim Crow ban on colored peoples. In Chicago, at least 30,000 were out on the streets. Every train stopped during that day as every worker joined the workers’ movement.
The early stage of the workers’ awakening
“One day of revolt – not rest! A day not ordained by the bragging spokesmen of institutions holding the world of labor in bondage. A day on which labor makes its own laws and has the power to execute them! All without the consent or approval of those who oppress and rule. A day on which in tremendous force the unity of the army of toilers is arrayed against the powers that today hold sway over the destinies of the people of all nations. A day of protest against oppression and tyranny, against ignorance and war of any kind. A day on which to begin to enjoy ‘eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” — The Proletariat, 1885
After the proletariat recovered from the events of 1877, its movement spread like a wild fire, especially once it had found a focus: the demand for the eight-hour day.
In 1871, Paris workers stormed the city and seized power for the first time in the name of the propertyless working class. They dared to establish the Paris Commune for a newly transformed society where all classes and all oppression in any form be abolished.
But the first ever communist estate was shortlived as the ruling classes of Europe through their armies crashed it. The leaders as well as members who survived the battle in Paris died before firing squads. The Prussian state in Germany fearing of a repeat of the Paris Commune imposed a brutal and severe Anti-Socialist law in 1878 making revolutionary parties illegal. In Britain, ruling classes and government heads lure the leaders of the labor movements of wealth from Britains new colonies.
In 1877, a general strike spread along the major rail lines in Chicago. New radical leadership stood up especially among the German immigrants who had connections with the First Communist International of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. The strike and rallies were bloody dispersals by police gunfire.
Many attempts by the working class to soldify and further strenghen and expand their ranks were met with brute force by the ruling class which was controlled by the governments. Inspite of this, as their poor situation turns to the poorest, their determination to change the oppressive system and build a socialist society did not die.
In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, one of the several national workers’ union networks called for a national day of action. That is May 1, 1886 as they proposed where the workers will simply seize the eight-hour a day and close the gates of factories. The worker’s economic demand of Eight hours from their immediate employers will be transformed politically for the whole working class.
Because of the May 1 plan of national action, a spirit of agitation and strengthened determination spread anew among the workers. Workers’ union and organizations grew tremendously, for example, the Knights of Labor swelled from 100,000 in mid 1885 to 700,000 in one year.
We mean to make things over
We’re tired of toil for naught
But bare enough to live on;
Never an hour for thought. — worker song, 1886
Slaughter of the workers
The day the workers were waiting for came, with grim determination to stand up for their rights, they marched the streets, carried red flags and emblems while singing workers’ songs. This day shouted that the workers make the world turns.
But the ruling class do not like the turn of events, they decided that the worker movements must be destroyed at all cost. That day, armed policemen were positioned on the rooftops ready to kill anybody on sight.
Police began attacking the rallying workers with truncheons and bullets where many were fatally injured and killed.On the following days, many workers were brutally dispersed by the police. On the morning of May 4, police attacked 3,000 strikers at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. A detachment of 180 heavily armed police men started shooting at the workers leaving several killed and hundreds wounded. Seven policemen died mostly from their own bullets.
“Blood has flowed. It happened as it had to. The militia have not been drilling in vain. It is historical that private property had its origin in violence. The war of classes had to come… In the poor shanty, miserably clad women and children are weeping for husband and father. In the palace, they clink glasses filled with costly wine and drink to the happiness of the blood bandits of law and order. Dry your tears, ye poor and wretched: take heart, ye slaves; arise in your might and overthrow the system of robbery.” — Arbeiter Zeitung, 1886