Tag Archives: Jake Carman

History of May Day

1 May

Hey friends,

  Below is an essay that appeared in my book, Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation: The History of BAAM, and Other Essays. We ran various versions of this article in the old BAAM Newsletter, updating it each May. Enjoy, and hope to see you in the streets today!

       -Jake Carman

 

How Migrant Workers Won the Eight-hour Day: A History of May Day

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 33 – May, 2010

 

 

In the United States in the late 1800s, workers in general and migrant workers in particular faced abysmal conditions on the job. Workers, including children, could suffer sixteen or more hours a day under dangerous, stifling, sweatshop conditions to earn starvation wages and live in cramped quarters. Like today, workers poured in from all over the world to pursue the American Dream through their own honest labor. Workers came from Ireland, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Norway, Syria, Slovakia, Poland, and elsewhere in search of better lives. When they arrived, however, they faced blatant racism and hate, just like migrant workers do today. Eking out hard livings in tight-knit ethnic communities, most were considered second-class citizens, regarded as diseased criminals, untrustworthy scoundrels, and, more importantly, a cheap and dispensable source of labor.

Comparing their tortured conditions to the lives of luxury and leisure that their labor provided to the factory owners and bosses, these workers became determined to do more than exist as slaves; they would organize and win for themselves lives worthy of humans. Many immigrants brought with them the radical traditions of their native countries. Anarchists, socialists, and other revolutionaries found eager ears among their fellow workers, foreign and native-born alike. Recognizing the injustices of the United States, they dreamt of a world where workers control the products of their labor, where all people have access to food and housing, and where communities, not politicians and bosses, make the decisions.

A movement for the eight-hour day started gaining momentum across the country. This struggle, undertaken by reformers and radicals alike, demanded eight hours for work, eight for sleep, and eight for leisure. Chicago’s strong labor movement pressed for, and was rewarded with, eight-hour legislation in 1867, to be enacted May 1. However, when that day came, the bosses refused to respect it and the government didn’t force them to. Chicago’s militant, organized workers went on strike to protest, but the police brutally crushed their resistance within a week and the despondent workers returned to their jobs. The only thing that changed for Chicago’s toilers is that they lost confidence that change could be achieved through legislation.

This rejection of reformism remained in the collective memory of Chicago’s workers and by 1886, another, more radical eight-hour movement sprang up. Led by migrant and other workers of the anarchist International Working People’s Association (IWPA), a general strike was planned for May 1 to proclaim the power and strength of Chicago’s determined workers. On May 1, 1886, 400,000 went on strike in Chicago, with another 350,000 joining them across the nation. Eighty thousand people marched through Chicago’s streets on May Day, defying the artificial boundaries the rulers used to divide them—race, sex, nationality, and trade—and their demonstration of unity terrified the upper class. Determined not to concede anything and to hoard all of the wealth they had robbed from the poor, the rich set out to crush the movement with violence.

 

Labor Crucified

The workers’ momentum continued with strikes and demonstrations. On May 3, the striking “lumber shovers” union held a public meeting of 6,000 near the McCormick plant. The police, loyally serving and protecting the interests of wealthy capitalists, attacked the meeting with guns and batons, killing one worker and wounding more. Outraged, anarchists posted a call in their daily German-language paper, the Arbeiter-Zeitung (“Workers’ Newspaper”) for a May 4 protest meeting at Haymarket Square.

On May 4, thousands gathered at Haymarket to denounce police violence. The crowd listened to speeches by migrant anarchist workers, such as August Spies and Samuel Fielden. Even the mayor of Chicago, who attended the beginning half of the rally, said, “nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference,” and he advised police captain Bonfield to send his forces home. Bonfield didn’t. Around 10 P.M., after the mayor and many attendees left, and as Fielden was calling the meeting to a close, Bonfield’s force of two-hundred officers marched on the rally, threatening violence and demanding it break up. Just then, someone threw a bomb at the police, killing one instantly and injuring many. In the chaos, police fired indiscriminately, killing seven of their own officers and numerous demonstrators, though they never counted how many workers they slaughtered.

A reign of terror followed while the state prosecutor publicly advised the police to target anarchists: “make the raids first and look up the law afterwards.” Police arrested all known anarchists and raided meeting halls, printing offices, and homes. Eight prominent anarchists, newspaper editors, and unionists were charged with the Haymarket bombing. They were August Spies, Sam Fielden, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg, and Oscar Neebe. Of the eight men, seven were immigrants, and only three were at Haymarket that night. The state prosecutor handpicked a biased jury, and presented no evidence connecting the accused to the bomb. As the prosecution argued in court, “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 who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society.” So they did.

A massive international campaign for their freedom emerged, led by Lucy Parsons, wife of Albert and a skilled labor organizer in her own right. In response, the state commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment, and Neebe got fifteen years. The gallows awaited the rest. The fiery young German carpenter, Louis Lingg, cheated the hangman. He committed suicide in his cell the day before his execution. On November 11, 1887, Parsons, Engel, Spies, and Fischer were hanged. Six hundred thousand people attended their funeral.

The state murdered those five anarchist organizers. At the time it was seen as a setback for the eight-hour movement, but the event radicalized many more, like Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, who later became influential anarchists. Their radical careers were inspired by the anarchists of Chicago.

The American Federation of Labor and the anarchist IWPA took the streets again on May Day, 1890, and the movement for the eight-hour day pressed on. Carrying on the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs, organized labor began to make headway. The United Mine Workers achieved the eight-hour day in 1898, as did the Building Trades Council of San Francisco in 1900, printing trades across the U.S. in 1905, and Ford Motor workers in 1914. In 1916, threatening a nationwide general strike, U.S. railroad workers forced the government to pass the Adamson Act, which won them an eight-hour day, with additional pay for overtime.

Finally in 1938, massive militant movements of workers and the unemployed forced the Roosevelt government to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing for many the eight-hour day with extra overtime pay, as well as a national minimum wage, and the abolition of “oppressive child labor.”

 

Repression: The Decline of Labor

Frightened by the gains of the U.S. labor movement and by the revolution in Russia, the U.S. ruling class utilized their government to undermine labor’s achievements and used violence, racism, nationalism, and red baiting to splinter the movement. On May Day 1919, police and citizens bitten by the bug of blind patriotism attacked workers’ parades. Hundreds of workers were arrested, hundreds more were badly beaten, and many workers’ headquarters were ransacked. In Roxbury, MA, police and nationalists assaulted parading workers, beating them with clubs, trampling them with horses, and shooting at them. In the ensuing battle, two workers and two officers were shot, and a police chief died of a heart attack.

Beyond the violence of the police club, the government also passed a slew of laws to make the deportation of immigrant activists easier, and to keep foreign radicals out. In 1903, a new law excluded anarchists and other revolutionaries from entering the United States and enabled the government to deport radicals who had lived here for three years or less. It was broadened in 1917 to make immigrants deportable for up to five years, with no time limit for those who advocated anarchism or revolution. In 1918, a new law allowed the deportation of “aliens who are members of, or affiliated with, any organization…that writes, circulates, distributes, prints, publishes or displays, or causes to be written…or has in its possession…any written or printed matter” of an anarchist or revolutionary nature. From 1919 until 1921, U.S. Attorney General Palmer used these laws in a wave of arrests and deportations, targeting Italian anarchists and other radicals. Radicals who were not deported either fled overseas or went underground. The Palmer Raids decimated the workers’ movement. During this time, Massachusetts framed and executed immigrant workers Sacco and Vanzetti based on their Italian heritage and anarchist beliefs in what is recognized worldwide as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in history.

From the Palmer Raids to the Red Scare, the government used fear of radicals and hatred of foreigners to divide the labor movement. These divisions still cut through the working class. As a direct result, organized labor is a depressing shadow of what it once was. Most unions are too weak and corrupt to effectively combat the dominance of the capitalists. With help from the U.S. government and pro-capitalist unions, workers have even forgotten their holiday! Although International Workers’ Day is celebrated throughout the world, until 2006 only a small handful of U.S. radicals commemorated May Day.

 

We Struggle On: May Day Today

In May 2006, it was again the migrant workers who led the struggle for the rights of workers worldwide. Reviving the tradition of International Workers’ Day with El Gran Paro Estadounidense (the Great American Strike), migrant workers organized a one-day strike of work and school and a boycott of commerce. Millions participated in the demonstrations, especially in Los Angeles and also Chicago, the birthplace of International Workers’ Day. Tens of thousands marched in Boston and Everett, MA. Everywhere, workers and student allies joined the immigrants, and the demonstrations helped to stop H.R. 4437, a bill that would have made felons of all undocumented immigrants. In Boston, as across the country, workers again marched for migrants’ rights on May Day 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, we march on May Day once more. Bosses and politicians, aware of the economic depression their system has caused, look for scapegoats. Fearing a renewed movement of united workers that might force them to share the wealth and power, the rich spread racism and nationalism. They hope to turn U.S.-born workers against their migrant sisters and brothers. We will not let this happen.

The state terrorizes migrant worker communities with raids and tears families apart with deportations. They beg U.S.-born workers to separate themselves from the “foreigners,” and celebrate not May Day, but “Loyalty Day” on May 1st. To this we reply: we U.S.-born workers are loyal. We are loyal to our class, loyal to our communities, and loyal to the workers of the world! No human is illegal, and all workers deserve the same rights and freedoms. Just like the Haymarket Martyrs, we will march onward until the day when workers are no longer divided, exploited, or terrorized. We will work together to free ourselves from the bosses and politicians who have dominated our lives with fear and violence for so long.

Until that day, we remember the Haymarket Martyrs, and all of the other nameless workers who have fallen in the struggle for justice, for freedom, and for the workers’ revolution.

No Borders! No Deportations! No Bosses! No Nations!

Happy May Day! A new song to celebrate

30 Apr

Hey friends and comrades!

In celebration of May Day (tomorrow!), Jake and the Infernal Machine are releasing a new song song, “Haymarket,” from our upcoming album. We hope to have the rest of the album ready at the end of the summer! Enjoy –

Click here to hear the song!

Lyrics
Four men swingin’ in the wind

Four men swingin’ in the wind

Hey Mama, did they do down to Haymarket?

Was that their only sin

They fought to bring us 8 hours

a general strike for 8 hours

but the state devours when it can win

bullets and batons are their power

“The Day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you throttle today.”

(August Spies)

They killed some workers at McCormick’s

so in their papers the anarchists

swore they’d tear the rich down from their high tower

they called at meeting at Haymarket

The mayor said all was quiet

police go home, there’ll be no riot

but Bonfield sent his men in to crack some skulls

dead bodies gathered there in piles

The called the rebels instigators

make raids now, look up laws later

hang one man for every hour

and make examples of the leaders

five men waiting on the gallows

five men waiting on the gallows

grave digger, dig them graves shallow

cause they’ll be rising up tomorrow

now there’s 4 men swingin in the wind

4 men swingin in the wind

only 2 were even down at Haymarket

its not the end, its the beginning

its not the end its the beginning.

its not the end its the beginning.

Remember we are the beginning.

(Extra verses)

Lucy went down to see her husband

one last time before they hung him

but they stripped her naked along with her child

and threw them both into the dungeon

Louis Lingg wouldn’t go quiet

hang man kill me if you’d try it

slipped a capsule between his teeth

and blew his skull into fragments

Interviewed on “What’s Left” 2/1/13

14 Apr

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Jake Carman is interviewed on “What’s Left” about his first book, “Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation: The History of the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement, and other Essays.” 2/1/13, Cambridge, MA

3 Parts. 26 minutes total.

Radio Interview on Youtube

Radio Appearance Tomorrow

11 Apr

Hey all! Catch me in the radio tomorrow night. I’ll be going on Linda Pinkow’s WMBR show, “What’s Left,” to talk about the new publication, The Cradle of Liberty. Tune in to 88.1FM at 6:00pm:

WMBR 88.1 FM

A new publication! The Cradle of Liberty

10 Mar

Greetings friends and comrades,

If you like my writings from my recent book, check out the new publication I’m helping to launch! The Cradle of Liberty, due to appear in early April, will be a publication about people’s struggles in and around Boston. It will promote anarchist values but not quite in such a blunt was as did the BAAM Newsletter. Our hope is that this will be a paper any working class person may find interesting and valuable.

Check it out at:

website

facebook page

Call for Submissions:

Submit Content

Call for Submissions – The Cradle of Liberty

The Cradle of Liberty Collective is looking for news articles, editorials, short essays, and event announcements relevant to the Massachusetts working class community. We, the Cradle of Liberty Collective, are publishing the first issue of *The Cradle of Liberty*, a bi-monthly newspaper, in April and we are calling for submissions. We ask that all articles be submitted by March 16th. Send them to:
CradleofLibertyNews@gmail.com

Formal institutions, from the media to political parties to schools, work to disengage us from politics, to turn us into spectators and not actors, and to stifle discussion about issues that affect us.  The aim of *The Cradle of Liberty* is to engage working class people, connect communities, promote struggles against oppression and injustice, and encourage open discussion.

We want stories that highlight successes of people who are fighting injustices in the community, labor groups struggling for fair compensation and treatment, and people who act for the benefit of their neighbors. We want articles that reveal the iniquities in the system and promote the people who are working to correct them.

We are for people having a direct say in the organizations making decisions about their lives. We want everyone to be part of the decision-making process in decisions that affect them and their communities.

If this sounds appealing to you and you would like to submit an article or would like to get involved in any other way, then please get in touch. If you cannot submit content, we are also looking for financial support in producing this free publication.

For the first issue, we ask that all articles be submitted by March 16th.

Contact us as CradleofLibertyNews@gmail.com

Hope to see you tomorrow

18 Jan

In Providence! I’ll be speaking at Providence’s amazing Libertalia social center, presenting my book and discussing the lessons in anarchist organization and social struggle. Hope you can make it.

Click here for details

Here for the facebook event

The American Dream and the Anarchist Dream

11 Dec

The American Dream and the Anarchist Dream
The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 20 – April 2009

Throughout the years, much has been written about the American Dream. We learn from our schools, our families, the churches, and the media that to achieve this dream—namely to own a home, to gain material wealth and the freedom to buy, to have both leisure and convenience —is to achieve happiness. In a word, the American Dream is to prosper, to carve out a life of prosperity for you and yours in a highly competitive society.
For millions of Americans, this dream is slipping away. The American Dream is being replaced by the stark reality of American Life: a constant struggle to survive capitalism, to have food on the table and a roof to sleep under. People are increasingly realizing that the American Dream is unattainable. This realization comes from the recent and obvious failure of the capitalist system, represented by the global economic collapse, and ensuing depression that grips us all by the stomach and the throat.
Except for a small minority of people, the American Dream has never been and could never be more than a dream. Most people will never achieve the American Dream because it’s nothing more than climbing to the top of the capitalist system; and not everyone can climb to the top of a pile of climbers. To maintain the American Dream is to condemn the vast majority of people to a lifetime of thankless toil, to produce for the privileged few their celebrated spoils of leisure and convenience. Without the sweat of the working class, there is no American Dream. Thus, the American Dream is not only a false dream for all but the privileged few, it is also a selfish dream, because its realization for anyone dooms the rest of human society to economic slavery.
The myth of the attainability of the American Dream is perpetuated by those who have achieved it, to keep the rest of us working hard to produce the wealth, leisure, and convenience they enjoy.
So let us, then, explore another dream: the Anarchist Dream. Springing forth from the very nature of humanity, a vision of society as old as society itself, it was given a name (Anarchism) late in the process of departmentalization and segregation of civilization into a system of classes, castes, and nation-states. The assignation of a name marked the birth of a movement against the slavery and bondage to which the majority of us are subjected. Our masters consider the Anarchist Dream a dangerous dream indeed. These masters, those leeches who enjoy the benefits of the American Dream by sustaining our nightmare, call it dangerous, foolish, and unattainable. In a way, these condemnations are true.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous—to the rich parasites that live lavishly off of our grief! The Anarchist Dream is a vision for a new, free world, a society where all humans live in equality, where the things we build and grow, and the things that Mother Earth provides her children, are not to be hoarded by the selfish and violent few—bosses, governments, corporations—but to be shared by all. In such a free world, nations and governments will be replaced by the free associations of communities, villages, and neighborhoods, to organize and self-govern as they see fit. The bosses that hold our time and our stomachs hostage will be replaced, but only by us, the workers, organized together in non-hierarchal collectives, unions, and associations as we see fit. So that we may share the products of our labor among ourselves and with our communities. So that we may create that which we, as human societies, need, instead of just that which will make our bosses the most profit. So that we may create on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” So that we may eliminate the useless jobs, the banks, insurance agencies, and greedy corporations who got us into this mess of poverty in the first place, and re-organize the vital jobs in an egalitarian manner. So that we can carry out our labor without carelessly destroying the earth, without which humanity, like all other living things, is doomed to a dull and lonely existence on the road to extinction.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous—for the rich—because in this beautiful dream there are no rich. There are no rich, and there are no poor to make the rich the rich. There are no poor, there are no homeless, and there are no hungry. For where there are people with hands, brains, skills, and talents, we can create. And where humans can create, we can produce, gather, and distribute vast quantities of all the necessities, more than enough for us to all live good lives. And when we are free, there’s no reason not to share. Just look at the things we’ve already created! Vast cities of skyscrapers, incredible laborsaving technology, and inspiring environmentally sustainable methods of producing energy, food, and everything else. All of these and more are the accomplishments of an enslaved humanity. Imagine what we can do together once we are free, once we are inventing, not for the profit of corporate bosses, not for the dominance of this government or that military, but to dream up, invent, produce, and create for a life of enjoyment for our communities.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous for the rich because the rich cannot control workers infected by it. They cannot dominate societies that fill their cups to the brim and boil over with the revolutionary spirit. They cannot divide and conquer a people who recognize each other as siblings, siblings for whom life, liberty, health, and fate are infinitely intertwined and interconnected. Siblings, without each other we are nothing, but together, we are unstoppable.
The Anarchist Dream is foolish and unattainable—according to the leeches and parasites—because it can never happen. Except it has happened: in short breaths of life in Greece in December of 2008; in Oaxaca, Mexico in the summer and fall of 2006; in the neighborhoods, factories, hotels, restaurants, and other recovered workplaces in Argentina, 2001-2002; rising from the Kabylie region and spreading across Algeria throughout 2001; in much of Spain from 1936-1939; in southern Ukraine from 1918-1922; in the countless revolts and revolutions of peasants and workers throughout the middle ages; and for all of human history before the class of parasites was able to establish its dominance over free societies by hoarding food and land with violence and treachery.
The Anarchist Dream, rather, is foolish and unattainable—according to our masters—because if or when we try it, they will throw all of their resources at us—their guns, their armies, their bombs, their tanks, their jets, their missiles—as they have every other time we’ve tried it, and they will destroy us. They will destroy us to kill the ideas in our hearts, to kill the examples of a new world we build by our being, acting, creating, and organizing. They will do everything they can to wipe us clean out of existence so that our bad example—bad for them—cannot spread to others, to be planted like the seeds of hardy weeds, or the particles of an infectious virus, to engulf all of society like a forest fire and make life unbearable for the parasites, to burn them out! But they cannot kill us all. Oh, how they’ve tried! Each time, the Idea, the Dream escapes their slippery, sweaty fingers and resurfaces again. They will never kill the Idea, the Dream, nor the rebellious nature of the hardy weeds, constantly trampled underfoot, but always refusing to stay down. They cannot win forever, and we will never stop trying, stop fighting, stop rising up. Our day, our Idea, our Dream will come in time. It will pour out of the earth like a vibrant forest; but just like a forest this growth will take time, and right now we’re just hardy weeds with powerful dreams germinating the soils.
We, foolish dreamers and romantics who profess the Anarchist Dream, will never give up, for we know another thing they wish we’d forget: while their dream, the American Dream, is obtainable only by they, the privileged few, our dream includes everybody—even them, if they’re willing to abdicate their thrones and toss their paper crowns aside. Anarchism, by name, nature, idea, and practice, promises freedom and equality to everybody. This is a far cry from the misplaced dream of the toiling, slaving millions, dreaming only to stand in the place of their oppressors: to be their own masters.
So give up the American Dream, for it can never be yours. Even if it is yours already, it comes at the expense of the rest of humanity, that strong and rebellious breed who will shun you and fight you for freedom until the last breath and the final ounce of blood. Embrace, instead, the Anarchist Dream, the beautiful vision of an liberated humanity, where we are all free to dream, and where the collective creativity of emancipated thought and labor will turn the brightest of dreams into vivid realities. Defect, siblings, to the revolution, that righteous insurrection of dreamers.

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Book Release Party

6 Dec

Book Release Party

Here’s the flier. Tell your friends!