Tag Archive for: Labor Day

NEMiss.News Lopez birthday party




A Labor Day weekend birthday party drew 60-65 children and adults to the Northside New Albany home of David and Angeles Lopez.

NEMiss.News Neighborhood children at Lopez birthday party

Preparing to bring down the piñata for Martin’s first birthday.

The birthday honoree was one-year-old Martin Lopez, the youngest of their five sons.

A few dozen children enjoyed playing in a large air-filled “bouncy house” on the Lopez lawn, while the adults visited and watched over their children.

The highlight of the Friday evening party was the children taking turns swinging a stick at a bright yellow and green piñata in the shape a large numeral “1.” After a couple of hundred swings, the children accomplished their goal: the piñata  broke open, spilling forth colorful treats. The children scrambled to catch the treats and pick them up from the patio.

One guest, Edgar Del Rio, a childhood friend of David Lopez, traveled from his home in Seattle to attend the party. Del Rio left New Albany Sunday and traveled further east to South Carolina to visit family there.

The Lopez family gives several lawn parties every year for family, friends and neighborhood children. David Lopez pointed out that having five young sons is reason alone for at least five parties every year.




Labor Day in the South: Alabama coal miners’ strike now in 18th month. Starbucks ordered to rehire “Memphis 7” after firing them for union activity. Louisiana Dollar General employees find unique way to organize.


A new report from the non-profit Oxfam America found that Mississippi is among the five worst states for workers in the US. It may come as no surprise the other four states are also in the South. Workers in these five states have the lowest pay and the fewest worker protections. They’re also unlikely to have any sick leave or family leave.

States with low pay and poor worker protections also experience the highest rates of poverty, food insecurity and infant mortality.  Oxfam researcher Kaitlyn Henderson said, “The country is becoming a patchwork where where you live determines whether you are protected at work and if you can have a family”. The US is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee any sick pay and family leave for its workers.

It’s no coincidence that many of these states also have no protections for workers who organize or join unions. Despite the recent rise in union activity, union membership in the US is still at its lowest in 100 years. In the South especially, the word “union” comes with a lot of baggage. Workplace cultures in the South have conditioned workers to view unions as “outsiders” who just want their money or might get them fired.

In honor of Labor Day, I want to recognize a few recent stories about organized labor in the South that deserve more attention.


Warrior Met Coal workers strike

Coal miners working for Warrior Met Coal in Alabama have been on strike for 18 months.

In Brookwood, Alabama, hundreds of coal miners for Warrior Met Coal have been on strike for over 18 months. Workers say they’re motivated to continue the strike because the company failed to make good on a promise they made to workers six years ago. In 2015, Warrior Met Coal bought the company from Walter Energy, which was going bankrupt. Representatives from Warrior Met convinced workers to accept cuts in pay and benefits so that the company could get back on its feet. In five years, they said, we’ll offer you a better contract.

Warrior Met produces coal for steel making rather than power generation, which means their profits haven’t been heavily impacted by new climate legislation. So, five years after workers agreed to a massive pay cut, Warrior Met was doing very well. But still no more generous contract was forthcoming for the workers. After negotiations with management fell through, the workers called a strike in April 2021 and have been picketing from morning till night ever since.

Workers say the strike isn’t just about the money. Despite promises from Warrior Met, the workers still have no insurance to cover their families. Not only that, the plant has imposed strict attendance policies. Workers who arrive late due to family emergencies get strikes, which can add up to a dismissal. They also want Sundays off to spend with their families.

The striking workers credit their resilience to the support of their union, the United Mine Workers of America. Some of the workers are second and third-generation UMWA members. During the strike, UMWA has been helping their members stay afloat with monthly strike insurance checks. These checks don’t nearly match the workers’ salary, but donations have also come in from other unions in solidarity.

Striking Warrior Met Coal Worker: “I’m ready to go back to work, but I ain’t going back unless they do us right.” (opens in new tab).


Starbucks’ Memphis 7

The “Memphis 7” rejoice after hearing a judge has ruled Starbucks must rehire them.

We’ve probably all heard about the hundreds of Starbucks stores that are unionizing across the country. In January, seven workers at the Bluff City Starbucks store in Memphis announced that they were petitioning the National Labor Relations Board for a union vote. The workers even invited a local television news crew to the store to talk about their efforts. In February, shortly after the news segment aired, Starbucks fired all seven workers, claiming they’d violated store policy.

Just last month, a federal judge ordered that Starbucks immediately reinstate the Memphis 7. The judge found that Starbucks had unfairly targeted the workers for their organizing activities. Starbucks is planning to appeal the decision.

Starbucks has been particularly aggressive in its union busting activities. Other workers claim they’ve been fired for organizing, and the NLRB recently ruled that the company had illegally blocked wage increases for union stores.


Louisiana Dollar General workers

Dollar store workers across the South are calling attention to safety issues and poverty wages in the industry.

Dollar stores are a growing business that has exploded during the pandemic, especially in the South. National chains have opened up thousands of new stores. In some communities they may be the only store. More stores means more Southern workers than ever are working in this industry. Despite rapidly growing profits, most of their workers in this industry have low pay and few benefits.

In Louisiana, workers at Dollar General locations have experienced health and safety issues and struggled with low pay. Some have reached out to Step Up Louisiana, a labor advocacy group, not a union.  Step Up Louisiana supports unions and labor organizing, but isn’t itself a union. Not being a union means that they can’t engage in collective bargaining with employers. Instead, Step Up uses different tactics to advocate for better workplaces.

One thing Step Up does is bring direct media attention to workers’ issues. This is what they did in the case of Kenya Slaughter, a Dollar General worker in Alexandria, LA. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dollar General had done little to protect its workers. Step Up used its connections to get the New York Times to publish an opinion piece by Slaughter calling out the company.

The response was immediate. Soon after Slaughter’s story ran, Dollar General sent out protective gear to its stores. “(I) did not need a union to get that done and it got gone expeditiously,” Slaughter said. “I had all types of people calling my phone trying to see what they can do”.


Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!



In 1381, an army of impoverished and mostly illiterate peasants rose up against England’s oppressive economic and social order. Their achievements and ruthless efficiency are as shocking today as they were then to the aristocrats who underestimated them.



I’ve written before about the history of the labor movement in America, including the 1886 Haymarket Massacre. Recently, I’ve been thinking about another little-remembered event from history and its striking parallels with our own time. With Labor Day tomorrow, this seems as good a time as any to consider those parallels, and what lessons or warnings may be drawn from them.

In 1349, the Black Death (now known as Bubonic Plague) arrived in England, killing off between a third and half of the population. Very old news, I know. But did you know the Black Death gave rise to history’s first workers movement? Actually, it was less a “movement” than a “violent uprising bent on upending the whole social order”. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

The leader of this rebellion was Wat Tyler. His name suggests he made tiles, but we don’t know for sure. Historians can’t even agree about where he was from or where he was born. Until he entered the stage of history at the head of this rebellion, Tyler was one of the millions of faceless workers of Medieval England whose names are lost to us. We do know he was centuries ahead of his time politically and a formidable tactician. Over just two weeks in the summer of 1381, Tyler helped lead tens of thousands of followers in a lightning terror campaign that brought England’s ruling elite, and even its king, to their knees.

Background- A green and pleasant land, for some

Thanks to England’s fertile soil and long growing season, the ruling class that owned all the land had become fabulously wealthy by the 1300s. Each landowner, or lord, had dozens, if not hundreds, of “serfs” to work their land. These were bonded servants over whom the lords held the power of life and death. It wasn’t technically slavery, but pretty close.

Peasant farmers harvest grain while an overseer stands over them with a rod.

Serfs couldn’t go anywhere or even marry without their lord’s permission. It was a serf’s lot to be born, live, work and die on their lord’s land. Serfs produced everything their lord required from food, to wool, to furnishings. And if their lord got into a squabble with the neighboring lord, the serfs had to go fight for him as well.

These estates needed a lot of people to work them. After the Black Death, there were suddenly a lot fewer people to do all this work. This gave the serfs something they never had before: bargaining power, and a chance of upward mobility.

Only this didn’t happen.

Thumbs on scales and tightening screws

Rather than bowing to market pressures and granting serfs a greater share of the wealth they were producing, the landowners petitioned King Edward III in 1375 to decree that serfs’ wages be limited to pre-Plague levels. And he did. Even worse, new laws further restricted workers’ freedom and mobility, forbidding them from seeking better paid work elsewhere. The landed gentry pushed their workers harder than ever in a vain attempt to match the productivity achieved before half the workforce died off.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the English kings of that time had extensive land claims in France, which they were constantly having to defend. Periodically, the Crown would raise armies of English knights, mercenaries and conscripts to go and fight in France. Historians call this the 100 Years War, but it actually lasted 116 years.

Raising armies also meant raising taxes. As the fighting in France became more and more costly, the taxes became more oppressive. The Crown imposed a series of poll taxes, meaning everyone had to pay the same amount, nobleman and peasant alike. This didn’t seem fair to the already much put-upon peasants. It also didn’t escape their notice that the king’s courtiers seemed to be getting richer as the wars went on.

The last straw

In 1381, peasants staged a silent protest by ghosting from local registries to evade the poll tax. When the king’s treasurers did their sums, the discrepancy was obvious. Rather than turn a blind eye, the authorities sent tax collectors and armed guards into the villages to collect.

The tax collectors, believing no one would dare to defy them, committed hideous abuses, especially against young women. For example, they forced girls to raise their skirts to show whether they had reached puberty, making them eligible to pay the tax.

This was the final straw for the peasants. Across the eastern counties of England, coded messages were sent and armed posses were formed. These posses either beat or killed tax assessors and the armed kingsmen. Emboldened by their success in seeing off the tax collectors, the peasants went on the offensive.

Peasants getting Medieval with farm implements.

With the help of veterans of the French wars, the peasants organized themselves, beating their plowshares into swords. They ransacked local strongholds and centers of authority, burning tax records kept there. They freed serfs who’d been imprisoned for deserting their lords, who regarded them as property.

Marching across the countryside, rebel agitators gathered more followers and resources as they went. Wherever they went, they targeted and killed local nobles and officials who they considered oppressors. 

Even holy places like abbeys and monasteries weren’t safe from the peasants’ ire. The Church, then the biggest landowner in England, was every bit as authoritarian as the secular landlords. The Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury was also the king’s Lord High Chancellor, and one of the chief architects of the brutal crackdown on tax cheats. About 2000 armed rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral bent on putting Sudbury to death. But Sudbury had already run away to London.

On to London

Within a week of the first uprising, the rebels in Essex had elected Wat Tyler to lead them. Tyler communicated with leaders in the neighboring counties of Cambridge, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk. Together, the leaders agreed it was time to take the fight to London. Their goal once there was to put their case to the king. King Edward III had since died and his 14-year-old grandson, Richard II, was on the throne. The peasants didn’t see the boy king as their enemy. He was, in their view, appointed by God, and the final arbiter of God’s justice on earth. This, they believed, meant he was bound to take their side.

Instead, the peasants focused their rage on Richard’s advisers, whom the peasants thought were manipulating the boy king to enrich themselves. The peasants believed it was God’s will that they kill these advisers and thus free the king of their evil influence.

By the time all the rebel contingents converged on London, they were about 60,000 strong. Once there, the peasant army found that about half the city’s population of 40,000 were ready and waiting to join them. Over several days, the rebels raided and burned abbeys and stately homes, dumping treasures and luxury goods into the Thames. They stormed the lawcourts, killing lawyers they deemed corrupt. Possibly at the instigation of local cloth merchants, the rebels also targeted and executed foreigners, especially Flemish merchants (from modern day Belgium). Many Flemings were decapitated and others were forced into a church which the rebels then set ablaze. 

The murder of Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Tower of London.

A meeting at Mile End

London’s ruling class was wholly unprepared for such an assault. With all of Richard’s professional soldiers off fighting in France, the city was virtually defenseless. Moreover, Richard’s ruling council seemed paralyzed by the shocking turn of events. For centuries, the nobility had had little or no contact with the peasants they ruled, regarding them as little better than animals. It was inconceivable to them that the peasants could organize themselves with such deadly and purposeful efficiency.

Ultimately, the young king and his council decided to buy time. He consented to meet with a contingent of the rebels from Kent and hear their demands.

Richard and his kingsmen met the Kentish rebels at Mile End, at the edge of London. It’s unknown who put the demands to the king (some assume it was Tyler), but we know what the demands were: an end to serfdom; freedom to sell goods on the open market instead of handing them over to a lord; reduced land rents; and a general pardon for the rebels. The peasants also gave Richard a list of nobles they wanted handed over for execution.

Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, Richard agreed to these demands, and even issued charters making them law. Richard didn’t agree to hand over the nobles, but promised to mete out justice to them himself. However, while Richard was at Mile End, another rebel group stormed the Tower of London, where they finally caught up with Archbishop Sudbury. The rebels dragged out Sudbury and Robert Hales, the Lord High Treasurer, and beheaded them. 

Tyler rides forward

At this point, all but the most radical of the rebels returned home, satisfied with their apparent victories. However, Wat Tyler’s hardcore Essex contingent remained. Buoyed by Richard’s concessions at Mile End and believing the boy king was on their side, Tyler’s group arranged a face-to-face meeting with Richard the very next day at Smithfield, outside London’s walls.

At left, the Mayor of London strikes Wat Tyler. At right, Richard II rides forward to pacify the rebels.

Here again, the two sides met, Richard with his 200 or so kingsmen and advisers, and Tyler with his thousands-strong peasant army. Tyler rode forward to speak with the king. While aristocratic chroniclers of the time begrudgingly admit that Tyler was eloquent, they’re less flattering about his manners. Tyler spoke to the young king with a familiarity the king’s courtiers found offensive. Tyler addressed Richard as an equal, believing he was a fellow brother in the cause.

Tyler’s demands for reforms went further than those at Mile End. He demanded guarantees that the system of serfdom would never re-emerge; the abolition of the senior clergy and aristocracy (apart from the king); local administration of courts and police; and redistribution of the wealth of the clergy and nobility among the commoners.

Richard apparently agreed to these new demands, or at least made a show of it. What happened next is debatable. Most agree that one of the kingsmen provoked Tyler, who drew his knife. The Mayor of London then rode forward and slashed Tyler across the back of his head. Tyler managed to ride a few paces back towards his followers before falling from his horse.

The boy king’s face turn

Richard II. Jolly looking, isn’t he?

The peasants, seeing their leader struck down, raised their bows and prepared to attack. But then the boy king rode forward, telling the peasants that he would be their new leader. The peasants rejoiced and blithely followed Richard’s instruction to meet him at nearby Clerkenwell Fields.

Tyler, dying but not yet dead, was taken to a nearby abbey, ironically, for treatment. There, a group of kingsmen strode in, dragged Tyler outside and beheaded him.

The peasants awaiting the king at Clerkenwell were shocked when Richard arrived with the Mayor of London, who was carrying Tyler’s head on a pike. The king’s forces had the peasants surrounded. Seeing this, the peasants fell to their knees, begging the king’s mercy. Richard told them to leave London in peace, and they did.

The story didn’t end there, however. Richard retracted all his concessions from Mile End, vowing that the conditions of the peasants’ servitude would be even harsher than before. He then dispatched men-at-arms across the land to seek out and kill the rebel leaders in the villages and forests where they were hiding. This slaughter went on for months, killing thousands. At least two rebels suffered the ultimate traitor’s death: hanging, drawing and quartering.


The only immediate result of the revolt in the peasants’ favor was that King Richard at last withdrew the reviled poll tax. Other than that, things changed little for a time. Peasants’ wages remained low and their freedoms severely curtailed.

But over the following decades, England’s ruling class had to come to terms with new economic and social realities. Even though the feudal system remained law, few landlords dared enforce its harsh restrictions on their peasants. Gradually, peasants drifted away from their plantations seeking better opportunities elsewhere. Those peasants content to stay in the farming villages where they’d lived for generations enjoyed better wages and an overall better quality of life.

Of course, the struggle for economic freedom and equality didn’t end there and continues to this day. This struggle has at times given rise to mob violence and brutal crackdowns by the state and owner class. However, at least in the Western world, none have yet matched the scale and carnage of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt and its aftermath. For that we should be grateful.

Legacy and cautionary tales

A modern reader may sympathize with the rebels’ high-minded goals and aspirations to freedoms we take for granted today. Indeed, many progressive thinkers have eulogized the Peasants’ Revolt as a spiritual predecessor to modern labor and civil rights movements. But it’s important not to gloss over the horrors of those two weeks.

It’s difficult to grasp the scale and shock factor of this revolt today. It sprang up rapidly in counties across England, with possibly hundreds of thousands taking up arms. Within two weeks, they managed to coordinate a massive pincer movement advancing towards London. While this level of organization and discipline was stunning, it was by no means complete. Rebel leaders like Wat Tyler issued orders against looting and wanton savagery, but both occurred and were widespread.

Not only did the rebels kill hundreds of people who they regarded as traitors and oppressors, they also brutally killed many people who were completely innocent. Aside from London’s unfortunate Flemings, the rebels also targeted simple folk who refused to join their cause.  

The Peasants’ Revolt was a spontaneous, widespread, yet highly-focused explosion of rage that gave rise to an orgy of violence and destruction, the like of which we haven’t seen since. In this sense, the revolt marked a turning point in history. It was the moment when society first witnessed the awesome power and terror that can be unleashed when the masses have finally had enough of not having enough.



Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!


Economists: No guarantee of major employment bump, even as benefit boosts end. Brazil: fears that Bolsonaro may be planning a coup.


No guarantee of employment bump, even as benefit boosts end

Today, the $300/week federal unemployment boost expires, as do unemployment benefits for self-employed/”gig” workers and those who have been out of work for over 6 months. Many conservative politicians and business leaders will be celebrating this, after arguing for months that the additional benefits have kept people from going back to work.

But, the celebration may be short lived. Last week, a disappointing August jobs report showed a slower uptick in employment than in June and July. That means that millions of people either couldn’t go back to work or chose not to, even knowing these benefits would soon expire.

Additionally, the 25 states that ended the unemployment benefits early in June or July may provide a test case. Those states have seen only modest gains or no gains in employment compared with states that left the benefits in place.

As a matter of fact, some economists are predicting that the end of unemployment benefits could cause further stagnation in the job market. That’s because the roughly 11 million people who will lose benefits today will now just have less money to spend. The resulting loss of fluidity in the markets may hit production, profits and, ultimately, employment in some industries. This could end up canceling out any boost in employment gains once the benefits are gone.

So why are people not going back to work?

We’ve all heard the stories about “lazy” people just staying home and collecting “free money”. Or better yet, gaming the system by applying for jobs and not showing up so they can keep collecting unemployment. And yes, those people do exist, and you can expect them to rejoin the workforce pretty quickly after today if they haven’t already.

But while the “free money” talk makes exciting fodder for outrage porn on FoxNews and CNBC, it’s far from the whole picture.


President Biden attributed the disappointing August jobs report to the rise in COVID cases due to the delta variant. That is certainly a factor for many folks. About half of people currently working both remotely and in-person favor a vaccine mandate in their workplaces. Only about one quarter oppose such a mandate.

Many people who previously worked in food service are reluctant to return to work in restaurants that require neither vaccines nor masks for employees or patrons. The same is true for many custodial workers who are fearful of contracting COVID. When your job description includes coming into contact with strangers’ snotty hankies and other germ-filled detritus, it’s no wonder.


The pandemic also creates a special predicament for parents of school-aged children. For example, rising COVID rates have forced many parents to stay home with children who are in quarantine after a school outbreak or whose school districts have returned to hybrid or remote learning models. Since few jobs guarantee family leave (paid or otherwise) many parents may have little choice but to stay out of the workforce for the duration.

For many parents of younger children, dropping them off with friends, relatives or a local daycare center while you go to work just isn’t an option anymore. On top of that, you have the fear that even a vaccinated parent could potentially pass COVID on to their child who’s still to young to get the jab.

Exploring options

Pre-pandemic, many workers had no choice but to stick with jobs they didn’t love to pay their bills, keep food on the table or maintain their insurance. Once they got cut loose from those jobs, the unemployment benefits gave them time to re-evaluate and explore other options for employment. That could mean taking advantage of online classes to improve their skills; taking early retirement; finding better paying jobs; starting their own businesses; or just finding jobs they liked better. 

Some of these people will return to their old jobs once they’ve exhausted their other options, but some won’t. That’s just a new economic reality to which we’ll have to adjust.



Brazil: Fears Bolsonaro could be planning military coup

An international group of former presidents, prime ministers and other public figures have signed an open letter warning that Brazil’s hardline president Jair Bolsonaro could be plotting a coup. Brazil’s presidential elections are still 13 months away, but critics warn that Bolsonaro is already setting the groundwork to undermine the democratic process.

Last month, Bolsonaro lost a bid in Brazil’s courts to do away with computer ballots in favor of paper ballots. He had previously said he “may not accept” the outcome of the election if computer ballots were still in use. After his defeat in court, Bolsonaro addressed a group of evangelical leaders “I have three alternatives for my future: being arrested, killed or victory”.

The letters’ signatories point out that Bolsonaro has assembled a Trumpian coalition of Christian fundamentalists, right-wing militants, and white supremacists. In recent months, Bolsonaro has stepped up his feverish rallies of his most radical supporters in numerous Brazilian cities. Flanked by military police, Bolsonaro leads them through the streets in marches and motorcycle parades. For example, on Aug. 10, Bolsonaro “directed an unprecedented military parade through the capital city of Brasília”.

Bolsonaro has called on his supporters to stage “counter-coup” rallies against Brazil’s Congress and supreme court in major cities tomorrow. The letter warns that the rallies are “modeled on the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021”. 

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).


On this day some years ago, after I’d moved to Greece, some friends asked if I wanted to attend the May Day demonstrations with them in the center of Athens. When I asked what “May Day” was, one of them explained that it was International Labor Day.

“Oh,” I said, “In the States, we celebrate Labor Day in September.” I knew that May 1 was an ancient pagan holiday in Europe, but wasn’t sure about its significance for labor.

“Haven’t you ever heard of the Haymarket Affair?” they asked. It rang a faint bell somewhere, but I still failed to make the connection. My young Greek friends then gave me a brief American history lesson.


The first May Day

On May 1, 1886, in Chicago, socialists and anarchists demonstrated alongside disgruntled railroad workers, meatpackers and other major labor groups in the city. A procession of 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue to champion one of the leading causes in labor at the time, the 8-hour workday. The 8-hour workday had actually been the law of the land since the 1860s. But the business leaders of Chicago’s Gilded Age had chosen to disregard this- and profited handsomely by it. Hence the march.

Chicago Police Inspector John Bonfield

May 1 passed peaceably enough. But on May 2, the workers did not simply go back to life and work as usual. Having gathered a head of steam, and with no concessions from the owner class, labor strikes continued throughout the city. This did not sit well with Chicago’s wealthy industrial elite, nor with Chicago Police Inspector John Bonfield, who was proudly on their payroll. Bonfield had a reputation as a strike buster, and even staged riots to keep shaking down his wealthy benefactors. On May 3, Bonfield’s strike-busting force set upon striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. The police fatally shot at least two workers and wounded many more.

August Spies, a German immigrant and anarchist, witnessed the massacre. Spies published a German-language paper, Arbeiter Zeitung (or Workers’ Times). He was a collaborator of Albert Parsons (originally of Montgomery, AL), who published the anarchist workers’ paper The Alarm. The two men published a flier in English and German calling for a mass demonstration the next day, May 4, at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Their intention was to peacefully air grievances about the McCormick killings and many other acts of police brutality against striking workers and union organizers in recent years.


The Haymarket Affair

The May 4 gathering of about 2,500, though charged, was initially peaceful. Chicago’s popular mayor, Carter Harrison, even attended its 7:30pm commencement, receiving cheers from the crowd. Harrison soon took his leave, anticipating no trouble. Several speakers took the podium, including Spies, Parsons, and Samuel Fielden, a British-born socialist and Methodist lay preacher. Around 10:30pm, following Fielden’s speech, police led by Inspector Bonfield converged on the gathering, already dwindling due to the late hour and a turn in the weather. Bonfield ordered the crowd to disperse, disregarding Fielden’s protestations that the gathering was peaceful.

At that moment, an unknown person hurled a homemade bomb filled with dynamite at the police line. The blast instantly killed one officer, Mathias Degan. After a moment of stunned silence, the panicked police officers drew their revolvers and began firing wildly into the crowd. They killed at least 4 workers and wounded at least 70 others. Some accounts from the time put the number of civilian dead as high as 50, but it is impossible to know for sure. Aside from Degan, at least 6 other officers were mortally wounded. However, it is unclear whether their deaths resulted from the bomb or from their fellow officers firing blindly in the smoke and confusion that prevailed.


The Chicago Martyrs. Center: Spies. Clockwise from top: Fielden, Lingg, Fischer, Engel, Schwab, and Parsons.

“The Chicago martyrs”

Following the Haymarket massacre, police arrested hundreds of labor activists, many of whom had not even attended the event.

In the end, eight men went on trial in the affair for conspiracy to commit murder. These included Spies and Parsons, both of whom had left Haymarket well before the trouble started. Fielden, who was at the podium and could not have thrown the bomb, was also tried. The other five men on trial were Adolf Fischer, Michael Schwab, and Oscar Neebe (all colleagues of Spies), as well as George Engel and Louis Lingg. None of these five had been present at any point during the Haymarket gathering.

Neebe, a pacifist, received a 15-year sentence. The rest of the men were sentenced to hang. And hang they did, with the exception of Lingg, who killed himself in his prison cell with an exploding cigar rather than face the gallows.

While we will never know who threw the bomb that day, we can be certain that it was not one of the condemned men.



To this day, in most of the industrialized world, May 1 is International Workers’ Day. On May Day, international labor groups honor the memory of the Chicago Martyrs and the sacrifices of many other American workers beaten or killed by police and militias at numerous strikes over several decades. Whether or not you agree with their politics, their activism paved the way for workers’ protections that we take for granted today. These include the eight-hour workday, the weekend, and an end to child labor and other exploitative practices.

Memorial to the Chicago Martyrs. The inscription reads: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

So why do we celebrate Labor Day in September?

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day. It was a good time of year for a holiday, falling between July 4 and Thanksgiving. Furthermore, it divorced US labor from the global labor rights movements with their revolutionary overtones. It also avoided commemoration of the infamous Haymarket Affair and its less than savory implications about Capitalism.

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower drove a further nail into the May Day coffin by declaring May 1 to be National Loyalty Day. This now-forgotten holiday celebrated all things patriotic and rejected anything that was vaguely foreign or Commie.

Nowadays, US Labor Day is, ironically, a celebration of Capitalism. US merchants offer blow-out sales to draw in workers with a free day to shop. Labor Day sales revenue is second only to Black Friday.

So whatever you’re doing today, spare a moment to take pride in the fact that the rest of the world is honoring the brave Americans (by birth or by choice) who fought for the rights and dignity of workers everywhere, even if many of us have forgotten them.

City and county officials are reminding the public that some solid-waste collection schedules will change next week because of the Sept. 7 Labor Day holiday.

All governmental offices, schools and some businesses will close in recognition of the holiday.

In New Albany, the route normally collected on Monday will be picked up Tuesday instead and the usual Tuesday route will be collected Wednesday. This has been the usual holiday routine for the city for some time.

In Union County outside the city, garbage will be picked up as usual Monday and the rest of the week. The county policy is to pick up solid waste as long as the Three Rivers Regional Landfill in Pontotoc County is open and that facility only closes for four holidays: July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.