Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Drinking Sorrow's Cup -- Lucy Parsons

"Oh, Misery, I have drunk thy cup of sorrow to its dregs, but I am still a rebel." Lucy Parsons, anarchist, labour organizer, rebel. Parsons died 70 years ago today. 

Parsons is best known for her involvement in the Haymarket Affair or Haymarket Massacre. This well known tragedy revolved around workers protesting for an eight hour workday. On May 1st , 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers had taken to the streets cities in the United States in support of the cause. Parsons and her husband Albert themselves apparently lead 80,000 people up Michigan Avenue in Chicago. On May 3rd  McCormick Harvester Works locked out its 1500 workers who had been protesting the cause and then brought in scabs.  A fight broke out between the workers and the scabs and 200 police officers were called in response; the police began shooting at the protestors killing four and injuring many others.

On May 4th 1886 a rally was held in Haymarket Square in support of the workers and the cause and to address the violence at McCormick. One hundred and eighty police officers were called in to break up the rally and shortly after that an unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd. In response to this the police began clubbing and shooting into the crowd the result of which was the death of seven police officers and four civilians. The next day Parsons and her husband were arrested along with numerous other labour activists and anarchists. The charges against Lucy were eventually dropped but those against Albert and seven others resulted in convictions despite the concession that none of them had thrown the bomb.  Of the seven, four, including Albert, were hanged. When Lucy and their two children went to see Albert for the last time on the day of his execution, they were arrested and thrown in jail and not released until after his death.

Parsons and her husband were founding members of the IWW, International Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies. The Wobbly Shop is a form of workplace democracy in which the workers have a say in, or elect, management of the company.  The IWW was also notable for the fact that at the time of its formation many unions would not accept immigrants whereas the IWW did. At its height in 1923 the IWW had 100,000 members. 

Parsons was arrested numerous times throughout her life and even at the age of 78 was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for her participation in organized protests.

You can find more information on Lucy at

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