People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 22

June 03, 2007

May Day At Haymarket


ON the first of May, we landed in Chicago, and were bursting with excitement to get to Haymarket Square. Terrie Albano, editor of People’s World Weekly, paper of the Communist Party of USA, told us there were going to be two rallies that day, one at the Haymarket site itself, and another for immigrants’ rights. Last year too the immigrants’ rights organisers had chosen May Day to hold their rally. “May Day was a casualty of the Cold War”, Terrie told us. “For years, Americans knew nothing about May Day, or the Haymarket martyrs. Slowly, we are beginning to reclaim Haymarket.” Is there anything at the site that commemorates the martyrs, we asked. “For years, there wasn’t,” Terrie said. “The police would periodically erect a memorial that remembered the policemen who were killed in the riot of 1886, but some anarchist or other would bomb the memorial. Finally, the police gave up. A few years ago, a memorial to the Haymarket martyrs has been erected. So at last we have something to show comrades like you, who come from all over the world, and used to be terribly disappointed to find nothing at the historic site.”


The Haymarket rally turned out to be larger than we had anticipated. When we reached, there were already about 500 people there, and by the time the speeches began, the crowd had swelled to 1,000. Most of them were members of some union or the other. Moloyashree and I read three poems: Bol by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Auratein Uthi Nahin Tho by Safdar Hashmi, and parts of Under Siege by Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet.


Among the people present there was a 86 year-old man, whose grandfather had taken part in the 1886 struggle. Another was a 95 year-old labour historian, who has spent every May Day at Haymarket for decades, and has worked tirelessly to resuscitate the memory of Haymarket.


The Haymarket rally gave a call to its participants to join the immigrants’ rights march, which turned out to be larger than anything we were prepared for. The police conceded in the papers the following day that there were 150,000 people there. Terrie and other comrades were certain there were at least twice as many. Immigrants’ rights and related issues are among the more challenging questions the labour movement in the US faces.


Without doubt, May Day at Haymarket was an experience to cherish. (SD)