Anarchist News No 8

April 1996

Water Charges

Watch where you step

After the 'success' of the Dublin West by-election where Joe Higgins (running as Militant Labour but widely identified in the election with the Anti-Water Charges Campaign) came within a few hundred votes of winning it seems the campaign has reached a cross roads. On the night of the count itself activists were declaring that come the general election the anti-Water Charge candidates would be running in every Dublin constituency. In fact no decision has been made as yet on running candidates by the campaign but it would seem this is now an unavoidable issue for the campaign to deal with.

To many this would seem the logical next step. We are taught after all that the best way to solve our problems to elect someone else to do it for us. Surly a dozen candidates in the next general election, with half of them getting elected could only do the campaign good. Refusing to stand in the elections could only be seen as an act of madness?

Perhaps, but on the other hand the campaign has stepped outside normal behaviour before. Most commentators considered the idea of mass non-payment a joke until recently when it became clear that we were not backing down in the face of court threats. But it was this mass non-payment that built the campaign (and indeed was the basis of Joe's vote).

There will of course be those who claim that the elections are just one other tactic that can be used. This might sound good in the abstract but in reality they would destroy the strength of the campaign as it moved from mobilising the mass of people to getting a tiny minority elected by the passive act of ticking a ballot paper. Almost as bad it would also represent a massive squandering of energy and resources, look at how much the by-election took up alone despite the fact it was Militant Labour and not the campaign itself that was running. Look how this took away from the mobilisation for today's march.

In many ways the establishment would be more then happy to see the campaign diverted away from the path of mass disobedience and down the safe road of electoral politics. The question is, will we allow this diversion?

As Anarchists we think electoral politics are a sham to trick ordinary people into believing they have power and influence over their 'leaders'. In many ways the whole issue of service charges underlines the nature of this sham as every political party has managed to run on both an anti-service charge platform and take part in the imposition of service charges. While in Limerick city mass non-payment defeated the charges, in Cork, where a majority of anti-charge councillors were elected, the establishment soon found ways to buy a sufficient number of these people off to bring in a charge anyway. There's an old saying fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

The real strength of the campaign, and it is a strength that cannot be bought off, is in the mass involvement of ordinary people. It's also a strength that is not just on this issue for its given us both confidence and contacts to act on things that affect us in the future. All this will be squandered if we go down the electoral path.

In many ways the best result for those of us who oppose involvement in the elections would have been if Joe Higgins was elected. The sight of him twiddling his thumbs in the Dail [or making passionate speeches to an empty room] would have underlined that this was no way to change things.

In the near future the campaign will be faced with a choice. To continue on the basis of mass mobilisation, non-payment and defiance of the state and its institutions. Or to seek to make a few campaign ‘leaders’ part of the state and so try to cause the state to reform itself. If the second (and wrong) choice is made it will be a big step backwards, not only for the campaign but for the organisation of the working class in Ireland as a whole.

May Day and Anarchism

The annual May Day march will take place in Dublin on May 6th this year. But why do anarchists and trade unionists march on May Day? What is the significance of this date?

It all began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted a historic resolution which asserted that eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labour from and after May 1st, 1886.

In the months prior to this date in Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike. This was the main centre of the agitation, and here the anarchists were in the forefront of the labour movement.

When on May 1st 1886, the eight hour strikes convulsed that city, one half of the workforce at the McCormick Harvester Co. came out. Two days later a mass meeting was held by 6,000 members of the 'lumber shovers' union who had also come out. The workers listened to a speech by the anarchist August Spies, who has been asked to address the meeting by the Central Labour Union. While Spies was speaking, urging the workers to stand together and not retreat before the bosses, the strikebreakers were beginning to leave the nearby McCormick plant.

The strikers, aided by the 'lumber shovers' marched down the street and forced the scabs back into the factory. Suddenly a force of 200 police arrived and, without any warning, attacked the crowd with clubs and revolvers. They killed at least one striker, seriously wounded five or six others and injured an indeterminate number.

Outraged by the brutal assaults he had witnessed, Spies went to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (a daily anarchist newspaper for German immigrant workers) and composed a circular calling on the workers of Chicago to attend a protest meeting the following night.

The protest meeting took place in the Haymarket Square and was addressed by Spies and two other anarchists active in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.

Throughout the speeches the crowd was orderly. Mayor Carter Harrison concluded that nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference.

Suddenly, when Fielden was closing the meeting a police column of 180 men, moved in and ordered the people to disperse immediately. Fielden protested we are peaceable. At this moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police. It killed one, fatally wounded six more and injured about seventy others. The police opened fire on the spectators. How many were wounded or killed by the police bullets was never exactly ascertained.

A reign of terror swept over Chicago. The press and the pulpit called for revenge, insisting the bomb was the work of socialists and anarchists. Meeting halls, union offices, printing works and private homes were raided. All known socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards was the public statement of Julius Grinnell, the state's attorney.

Eventually eight men stood trial for being accessories to murder. They were Spies, Fielden, Parsons, and five other anarchists who were influential in the labour movement, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.

The trial opened on June 21st 1886. The candidates for the jury were not chosen in the usual manner of drawing names from a box. A special bailiff, was appointed by the court to select the candidates. The defence was not allowed to present evidence that the special bailiff had publicly claimed I am managing this case and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death.

The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in Haymarket Square that evening.

No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor Harrison described the speeches as tame. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.

That the eight were on trial for their anarchist beliefs and trade union activities was made clear from the outset. The trial closed as it had opened, as was witnessed by the final words of Attorney Grinnell’s summation speech to the jury. Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. There 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.

On August 19th seven of the defendants were sentenced to death, and Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for their release, the state 'compromised' and commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.

600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The campaign to free Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued. On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set them free. He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. They and the hanged men had been the victims of hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge.

Evidence later came to light that the bomb had been thrown by a police agent working for Captain Bonfield, as part of a conspiracy involving certain steel bosses to discredit the labour movement.

When Spies addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die, he was confident that this conspiracy would not succeed. If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement... the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in misery and want, expect salvation - if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind you - and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.

These words still apply. We need independent working class politics. That means politics that can lead us towards a genuine socialism where freedom knows no limit other than not interfering with the freedom of others. A socialism that is based on real democracy - not the present charade where we can choose some of our rulers, but may not choose to do without rulers. A society where production is to satisfy needs, not to make profits for a privileged few. Anarchism.


Lebanese anarchists appeal for solidarity

We have received a request from anarchist comrades in the Lebanon to help them with the shipping costs of sending 2,000 copies of the first Arabic translation of Guerin's Anarchism to the Lebanon.

Copies have already been distributed to libaries in the Middle East and a further 2,000 copies are been distributed in Europe.

If you would like to help contributions can be made via the WSM at PO Box 1528, Dublin 8, Ireland.

The English translation is available from the same address for £8 inc. P&P.;

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