1886, may 1 - the general strike that started it all
in 1883 an active nucleus of revolutionary socialists founded an international working men's association in the united states. they were under the influence of the international anarchist congress, held in london in 1881, and also of johann most, a social democrat turned anarchist, who reached america in 1882. albert r. parsons and adolph fischer were the moving spirits in the association, which took the lead in a huge mass movement concentrated on winning an eight hour day. the campaign for this was launched by the trade unions and the knights of labor, and may 1, 1886, was fixed as the deadline for bringing the eight hour day into force.
during the first half of may, a nationwide strike involved 190,000 workers, of whom 80,000 were in Chicago. impressive mass demonstrations occurred in that city on may 1 and for several days thereafter. panic-stricken and terrified by this wave of rebellion, the bourgeoisie resolved to crush the movement at its source, resorting to a bloody provocation if need be. during a street meeting on may 4, 1886, in haymarket square, a bomb thrown at the legs of the police in an unexplained manner provided the necessary pretext.
eight leaders of the revolutionary and libertarian socialist movement were arrested, seven of them sentenced to death, and four subsequently hanged (a fifth committed suicide in his cell the day before the execution). since then the chicago martyrs-- parsons, fischer, engel, spies, and lingg-- have belonged to the international proletariat, and the universal celebration of may day (may 1) still commemorates the atrocious crime committed in the united states.
from anarchism by daniel guerin
the world : north america : united states : illinois