Remembering Haymarket

I am often too cynical for my own good. So I am taking time to reflect on the fact that on 1st May 1886, thousands of workers in Chicago went on strike to demand an eight-hour day. The police attacked them, their leaders were hanged, and the bosses went on the offensive. They must have thought they had achieved nothing.

But then the newly-formed American Federation of Labor took the cause forward, publicized the Haymarket massacre, and a couple of years later the Second International in Paris heard about them and decided to organize international protests in favour of the eight-hour day and the Haymarket martyrs.

Now 121 years later, May Day is being celebrated everywhere from Nigeria to Bangladesh to the Philippines to Colombia to Indonesia to the USA to right here in London and probably a hundred other countries that I’m too tired to link to, having just worked a 13-hour day (can’t win ’em all). I often find myself too scared to do anything that will put me on the line, but the Chicago workers did it, even though they were risking a lot more.

I also want to remember that all the benefits I enjoy as a worker today are due to people fighting for them in the past. I never really feel the benefits, but I’d feel them if they were taken away – pensions, benefits, safety laws, minimum wage, a host of employment laws, etc. As I discovered in a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful union fight at my old newspaper, employers will do anything they possibly can to wrench these things away. We have to cling on with all our might. We have to fight back. I just don’t know where the fight is going to come from when everyone seems too distracted by reality TV to take any interest in reality.

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There are 3 comments

  1. Great post, LA. Very thought-provoking.

    We are lucky to work in an environment in which we can expect decent pay and conditions and health and safety laws, etc. Although, as you say, some bosses would strip us of them if they got the chance – but they don’t dare.

    The threat we are facing these days, in journalism and in other industries, is the sort of stuff you may have seen on my blog and experienced yourself. Centralising, outsourcing, cost-cutting, profits-before-quality-journalism. These things are more subtle and not as basic (for want of a better word) as things like the eight-hour day. So they’re harder to fight.

    And yes, the “reality tv syndrome” is hard to contend with.

    Happy May Day, comrade!

  2. So many people take these benefits for granted. I feel that public opinion in the UK is very anti-unions. People seem to resent Unions when they are forced to take action because some big business is trying to deprive them of adequate compensation for their labour.

  3. The irony at the paper I worked at in the US was that it was consistently anti-union in its coverage, even after being embroiled in its own bitter union fight.

    Maybe it’s down to pressure from editors and management, but whenever unions get mentioned (in the US and UK press anyway, which I know about), it’s always as an inconvenience or barrier to something. Transport workers selfishly messing up people’s commutes by daring to strike, hospital workers putting sick patients at risk, auto workers standing in the way of a company’s progress with their stubborn demand for outdated things like the benefits they were promised…

    If we can’t even write about other people’s union battles with any fairness or sympathy, how can we expect to win our own? (Don’t know what your paper is like on this score, eugenie – hope it’s better!)

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