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HOUR ONE

With what ever parts I need that morning, I drag myself up the gangway of the ship and go over to the gangbox to get my tools. I have found that if I don't get a fast start in the beginning of the shift, the day will drag by slowly. So in the first hour of the day is one of my most productive.

Few working people know the true history of their class. This is not their fault. The history of the working class is not taught in the schools and the business unions don't touch on it much. What we are taught is the history of the employers and the politicians, and how great the U.S. has always been. The fact that everything that working people have gained has come about through struggle, is a fact that has been censored out of the history books used in schools. The Eight Hour Day Movement is one such struggle that few workers today know anything about.

One of the first universal demands of the U.S. labor movement was the eight hour day. In the early 1860s this demand spread across the country as eight hour day leagues were founded. Such labor organizations as the International Labor Union of America (the forerunner of the AFL) made the eight hour day their priority. The reasons given for this movement was the right of leisure time for working people and that an eight hour day would reduce unemployment.

By 1867, several states and cities had granted public employees the eight hour day. In 1868 Congress granted it to federal workers.

Across the country the eight hour day movement continued to grow. Massive marches and rallies were held and a number of strikes were called. Songs and poems were written that were known by working people across the land. One of the more popular ones was written by J.G. Blanchard.

"We want to feel the sunshine,
we want to smell the flowers;
We're sure that God has willed it,
and we mean to have eight hours.

We're summoning our forces,
from shipyard, shop, and mill.
Eight hours for work,
eight hours for rest,
eight hours for what we will.

The beasts that graze the hillsides,
the birds that wander free.
In the life that God has meted,
have a better lot than we.

Oh! hands and hearts are weary,
and homes are heavy with dole;
If life's to be filled with drudgery,
what need of a human soul!

Shout, shout the lusty rally
from shipyard, shop and mill.
The very stones would cry out
if labor's tongue were still!

The voice of God within us

is calling us to stand.
Erect, as is becoming
the work of his right hand.

Should he to whom the maker
his glorious image gave.
Cower, the meanest of his creatures,
a bread-and-butter slave!

Let the shout ring down the valleys,
the echo from every hill,
Eight hours for work,
eight hours for rest,
eight hours for what we will."

After it was found that the passing of labor laws did little, because it was hard to get them enforced, many eight hour day activists decided that only economic action would win the demand. A general strike was called for the eight hour day, to begin on May 1, 1886. Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike that day across the U.S. The next day even more workers joined in. Unfortunately the general strike was lost because of a repressive backlash after what history has come to call the Haymarket Affair in Chicago.

Chicago had long been one of the most repressive cities in the U.S. when it came to labor struggles. It was very common, back in those days, for the Chicago police to beat peaceful unarmed strikers and marchers, sometimes even shooting down these people in cold blood. The employer's newspapers encouraged these acts by the police against working people. it is inevitable when any group of people are treated in this manner, that someone will strike back in self-defense.

On May 1, 1886 over forty thousand workers in Chicago had joined the general strike. The next two days thousands more were added to the ranks of striking workers. Workers throughout Chicago were holding marches and rallies in support of their demand. One such rally was being held by striking lumber workers on May 3rd. Near where their rally was being held was the McCormick Reaper Works that had locked-out the union workers, and brought in scabs to take their jobs.

When the factory whistle signaled the change of shift, many of the lumber workers went over to the picketline in solidarity. The police and the hated Pinkertons attacked these workers and after beating many of them, the police opened fire with their guns, killing three workers, and wounding many others.

Members of the International Working People's Association were among the speakers at the lumber worker's rally. After they witnessed this bloody affair, they organized a protest meeting that night in a place called the Haymarket Square.

At that meeting many labor activists denounced the murders of working people by the Chicago police. The meeting was almost over when the police showed up to breakup the peaceful gathering. At the police line began to move in on the peaceful working people someone threw a bomb into the ranks of the attacking police. After the bomb went off the police panicked and began to shoot blindly. Contrary to how many history books have recorded this event, the medical reports show that only one of the police died directly from the bomb. The deadly wounds to the other policemen included bullet wounds. And many of those wounds came about because of the panic gun fire of the police.

The media and the employers created a state of hysteria that allowed for much of the labor movement to be suppressed. Eight labor activist of the International Working People's Association and the Central Labor Union, who were also anarchists, were put on trial for murder and conspiracy. There was no evidence connecting these men to the bomb or bomb thrower. However these eight labor activists were found guilty. The unfairness of the trial was even denounced by a number of conservative judges. Four of these men were hanged, August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Albert Parsons. One man, Louis Lingg, cheated the executioner by taking his own life the night before the hangings. Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe were sent to prison.

After the country regained a bit of its sanity, working people once again started to demand the eight hour day. The lumberjacks of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), found the most direct means of winning the eight hour day. In the northwest lumber camps, the IWW workers just walked off the job every day after working eight hours.

The eight hour day became the norm throughout industry after long struggles by thousands of working people. Today the eight hour day is being lost because the labor movement has become passive in defending this gain.