In many countries around the globe, 1 May is International Workers’ Day—a celebration of the working class and labor. Though Labor Day in September is the equivalent in the United States, IWD commemorates events that took place in nineteenth century Chicago in which Lucy Parsons, an anarchist labor organizer and a native Texan, figured prominently.
In 1886 labor activists and unions began preparing a nation-wide series of strikes, rallies, and demonstrations in support of an eight-hour work day. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 workers went on strike in Chicago on 1 May and joined with tens of thousands of other individuals in a march down Michigan Avenue led by Lucy Parsons, her husband, Albert, and their two children.
The Parsons continued leading demonstrations throughout the week, and three days later, on 4 May as Chicago police were dispersing a gathering in Haymarket Square, an unknown individual threw a bomb which resulted in the death of seven police officers. Police responded by opening fire on the demonstrators, killing at least four and wounding as many as seventy. (An estimated sixty police officers were also wounded by the gunfire). Though it was never proven who threw the bomb, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy in relation to the bombing in a hotly debated and highly criticized trial. Four of the men were eventually hanged on 11 November 1887, including Lucy’s husband, Albert. In 1889 at its initial congress in Paris the Second International (an association of international socialist parties) declared 1 May to be International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Haymarket massacre. Lucy Parsons continued as a committed labor activist and anarchist speaker and writer until her death in 1942.
Auntie Bellum plans a longer piece on this remarkable woman who ventured out of the South and made a lasting impact on the world, but we couldn’t let May Day pass without mentioning her role in its creation as a worldwide holiday. So wherever you’re working, go on strike for the rest of the day and raise a toast to Lucy Parsons!