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Occupy May Day Chicago: Is History Repeating Itself?



April 30, 2012

CHICAGO - The Occupy Movement is calling for a general strike and protest in cities around the nation tomorrow, May 1, known as International Workers Day. Historians say Chicago is where it all began, well over a century ago, and some people are wondering if history is repeating itself with the Occupy Movement.

Organizers there plan a march to Federal Plaza, in their words, "to defend the 99 percent." The Chicago "Occupiers" say they have garnered endorsements from more than 30 local advocacy groups, including a couple of labor unions, but it's unclear whether anyone will actually go on strike.

Historian Priscilla Murolo says that, to her, it's not really about whether someone strikes, it's about remembering how workers have struggled for rights that many Illinoisans now take for granted.

"Chicago is where May Day began. May Day 1886 marks the beginning of a national strike wave in support of the eight-hour day."

Murolo says on that day Chicago police opened fire, killing workers picketing the McCormick tractor factory. That led to what is known as the "Haymarket Affair," sometimes called the Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Massacre, two days later, which took the lives of police officers and protesters. Some say the "Haymarket Affair" also set back the labor movement, and Murolo says it wasn't until 1938 that the eight-hour day finally became law.

Murolo says today's protests have similar themes, but with a broader focus.

"We have, this time around, the 'Occupy' movement and the labor movement and the immigrant rights movement all coming together. This is a real historic convergence of people with visions of a better way of living."

Murolo says workers have lost ground over the years. For example, it was in the early '70s, she says, that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) was created to protect people against unsafe working conditions, but she says there's not as much oversight as there used to be.

"We began with quite a few inspectors and now there are only a few OSHA inspectors and they announce that they're coming. They call the employers and say 'We're going to show up.' But they only show up only once every three, four or five years."

The Chicago Historical Society describes the Haymarket event as "a momentous and controversial event in Chicago's history and in the history of the American labor movement. In Chicago, a monument was erected in Haymarket Square to memorialize the police officers who lost their lives. Throughout the United States and Europe, executed anarchists, who had been accused of throwing a deadly bomb at the event, became known as the martyrs of Chicago."

More information is at www.chicagohistory.org. "Occupy" information is at occupychi.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL
 

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