It is resolved that: "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1st 1886 and that we recommend to labor organizations throughout this jurisdiction that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution by the time named".
And so it was that the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions of the United States of America and Canada (FOTLU) having passed it's historic resolution in Chicago sparked a General Strike across AmericaThere were an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in New York and 11,000 in Detroit In other cities throughout the United States, smaller gatherings were made unique by the unity of black and white workers marching side by side.
In Chicago the press made much mischief as to the intentions of the Strikers and warned readers that
"There are two dangerous ruffians at large in this city. One of them is named Parsons. The other is named Spies. Mark them for today. Keep them in view. Hold them personally responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur." Trouble did occur but not through the actions of the Strikers On Monday May 3rd the police opened fire into an innocent crowd with gattling guns and rifles, six were killed. The next day at a protest at the killings, a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the assembled police officers, killing one immediately and wounding 65 others, seven of whom later died of their injuries. The remaining police officers drew their revolvers and fired into the crowd, wounding 200 and killing an unknown number.
Several witnesses identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the man who threw the bomb. Schnaubelt was arrested, but was later released without being charged with any crime. There was, and still is, some question as to whether or not Schnaubelt was an agent provocateur hired by either the police department or the industrialists of Chicago.
Within days seven labor leaders were arrested for the murder of Mathias J Degan, the police officer who died at Haymarket Square. Those arrested were August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg andOscar Neebe. Albert Parsons, who was also indicted, avoided arrest until the first day of the trial, when he walked into the courtroom and announced 'I have come to stand trial, your Honor, with my innocent comrades.'
At the trial itself, the prosecutors made no attempt to prove that any of the defendants threw the bomb or conspired to throw the bomb. Instead, they set about trying to prove that the bomb was thrown by an unknown person motivated by the ideals held by the defendants. Prosecuting Attorney Julius Grinnel, in his closing remarks, stated that:
Law is upon trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the grand jury and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands that follow them. ... Convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and save our institutions, our society.
In his final comments to the court, August Spies said
If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement... if this is your opinion, 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.
And now these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I, if I could. And if you think you can crush out these ideas that are gaining ground more and more every day, if you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows... if you would once more have people suffer the penalty of death because they have dared to tell the truth... then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, in Galileo still lives - they and others whose number is legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!
All of the defendants were convicted. With the sole exception of Oscar Neebe, all of the defendants were sentenced to death. Neebe was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He asked that he also be condemned to death, because he was no more innocent than the other defendants.
Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab petitioned for clemency and had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Louis Lingg avoided hanging by committing suicide. Some reports say that he accomplished his own death by biting a percussion cap. Others say that he exploded a stick of dynamite in his mouth. On 11 November, 1887, the other defendants were hanged.
In the UK in 1884, Tom Mann had joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and published a pamphlet calling for the working day to be limited to eight hours. Mann formed an organization, the Eight Hour League, which successfully pressured the Trades Union Congress to adopt the eight-hour day as a key goal.
In 1889, at the Marxist International Socialist Congress in Paris, a resolution was passed calling for a 'great international demonstration' for the eight hour day to take place on 1 May, 1890. On that date, there were May Day demonstrations in the United States and many European countries, as well as in Chile, Peru and Cuba.
In 1891, May Day was celebrated in Russia, Brazil and Ireland. China first celebrated May Day in 1920. In 1927, the holiday had spread to India, where there were demonstrations in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay (Mumbai)
As May Day was becoming a worldwide holiday, with the date having been chosen to commemorate the union fight for the eight-hour work day in the United States, within the United States itself the mainstream labour movement, now represented by the American Federation of Labor, was becoming more conservative. That organisation chose to support the first Monday in September as Labor Day. In 1894, federal legislation designating the September Labor Day holiday was passed and signed into law by the then-United States President, Grover Cleveland.
America and the World were made to wait a while after that protest in 1886 for their * hour day, and many today will wonder if it has now been conceded again.
But in memory of the Haymarket Martyrs, and all good honest working men and women across the globe who fight against the injustices of those who seek to enslave them I wish you all well on this International Workers Day.
Perhaps also we should pay tribute on this year anniversary to our recently departed Comrade Jack Jones, Trade Union Giant, Spanish Civil War Hero, Workers friend, and an Internationalist of the highest order.
Sleep Well Comrade