Silicon Valley is experimenting with a Universal Basic Income — and we should pay attention

Universal Basic Income may not be a new idea, but it’s gaining traction through an experiment in the Bay Area. (Courtesy photo)

By on May 17, 2017 (

“We’re about to experience a change in our economy on the scale of the agricultural or industrial revolution,” announced Sam Altman, the president of Y-Combinator, to a San Francisco audience.

Due to artificial intelligence, 62 percent of American low-skill jobs are at risk. The median probability of automation replacing the lowest-paid jobs is about 0.83, while jobs in higher-wage classes have a 0.31 to 0.04 chance of being automated. According to a 2013 report from Oxford, 50 percent of jobs could be replaced within the next 10 to 20 years — a claim supported by a McKinsey report that suggests the technology we have today could replace 45 percent of jobs right now.

If Altman is right, and this economic shift can be equated to the industrial revolution, this change will be an overwhelmingly positive phenomenon for future generations. In the meantime, we’ll face mass technological unemployment. This is why Altman is exploring the Universal Basic Income as a way of alleviating a problem that he, in part, helped to create.

Providing a guaranteed income is not a new idea and has enjoyed cyclical popularity, first suggested in the United States by Thomas Paine in “The Rights of Man.” But right now, Y-Combinator is conducting the first UBI experiment in the U.S. by paying $1,500 per month to 100 families living in Oakland and studying how having guaranteed income changes people’s lives and habits.

All of this raises the question: Are we approaching UBI’s tipping point?

UBI would provide an income safety net for those facing technological unemployment by providing a cash grant for basic living expenses while still encouraging full-time work and investment in education and technical training.

Every study completed so far on UBI demonstrates that receiving a basic income does not cause a drop-off in work. Although these studies are not infallible, they were done in small homogeneous communities and the participants knew they were being studied, they are a good indication of UBI’s potential

A study done in Canada demonstrated that UBI barely caused a decrease in working hours (less than 1 percent on average) and productivity increased. In a Namibian village, an experiment showed that people receiving “no strings attached” money from the government don’t squander it. Instead, the number of children attending low-cost private schools rose to 92 percent, and the rate of malnourishment among children plunged from 42 to 10 percent. People were likely to make capital investments in their small businesses and become entrepreneurs.

When you consider basic human behavior, this makes sense. UBI creates a floor, rather than a ceiling, so recipients are incentivized to make investments to increase their long-term earning potential.

It is also an elegant solution because it’s simple and transparent. The federal government funds about 126 anti-poverty programs, the majority of them entailing in-kind benefits. Not only do these programs carry administrative costs that could be eliminated by UBI, they also are complicated and dehumanizing for recipients to navigate.

UBI honors the agency of low-income people, allowing them to participate in the mainstream economy by freeing them from complicated benefits that often incentivize welfare over work.

It’s still too early to know the results of the Oakland experiment. Opponents write off UBI as being cost-prohibitive, but if the impending economic shift is of the magnitude Altman predicts, technology could lower the cost of living dramatically, making UBI within reach.

It’s clear that the future of work is going to be vastly different from what we’ve grown used to and we do not have a clear idea of what will replace our current 9-to-5. We’re already feeling the strain of this change and we’re going to have to react with truly innovative ideas.

Katie Modesitt is the development manager at the Independent Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Oakland. She is based in San Francisco.

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Sensible Cinema: “99 Homes”

Our film this month is 99 homes, a feature length film about evictions in America.  This is a departure from our regular documentary to a drama with real actors playing parts in a spell-binding, award-winning story that reveals detached people with power in our mortgage world and the effects on people’s lives:
Sensible Cinema
Sponsored by UU Social Justice Council
Commemorating Economic Justice Month
Friday, May 19, 6:30pm
Unitarian Universalist Center
1187 Franklin Street @ Geary Boulevard
The film 99 Homes is director/writer Ramin Bahrani’s gripping, dramatic thriller about the winners and losers in America’s mortgage roulette.
In 99 Homes  we watch as a recently foreclosed victim played by actor Andrew Garfield, desperate for work becomes the reluctant protégé/employee of the  real estate shark  Rick Carver(Michael Shannon) who evicted him and his family.
Morally challenging, uncomfortable and rousing 99 Homes  forces us to look critically at the current state of economic disparity.
This screening is dedicated to Iris Canada and others who have  lost their lives fighting the battle of eviction.
As usual, popcorn and other refreshments will also be available.
Free Admission donations appreciated).  For more information please contact:
Melvin Starks ( or Larry Danos (415-722-6480)
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Occupation update from Mike Zint

Once upon a time, there were a group of homeless protesters in San Francisco. This is where we came from. And this is why we are so hard to stop. We were brought up as a movement having to deal with this, and worse.

The occupation as a tactic is highly effective, but not easy to pull off. It also creates a bond in the participants that is amazing. It creates community and family. And that is how we win.

For the second time SFPD illegally raid our protest and steal personal property. HELP! Who do you call when the police are the criminals.

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OccupyForum presents . . . Visualize Impeachment Film: “The Final Days”

OccupyForum presents…

Monday, May 15th from 6 – 9 pm at The Black and Brown Social Club

474 Valencia Street near the 16th Street BART station

Information, discussion & community! Monday Night Forum!!

Occupy Forum is an opportunity for open and respectful dialogue

on all sides of these critically important issues!

Visualize Impeachment

Film: The Final Days

Based on the acclaimed book written by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, The Final Days chronicles president Richard Nixon’s administration during the critical period after the Watergate break-in scandal, which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation from the office on August 1974. Facing certain impeachment on charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power, the 37th President had virtually no choice but to resign. But it was not the actual break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in 1972 that forced the first presidential resignation in American history, rather it was the cover-up afterward.

Stanley Kutler writes in “The Wars of Watergate” (1990):

Political Philosophers since the ancient Greeks have sought to understand the links between politics and ethical behavior. The eagerness of Nixon and his supporters to dismiss his misdeeds because “everyone does it” perversely twisted the conservative political tradition to which they subscribed that allegedly rests on virtue and morality. 

As the impeachment inquiry reached its climax, Congressman William Cohen recognized that perversion and wondered “how we moved from the Federalist Papers of the 1780s to the Nixon tapes on the 1970s”. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who had few illusions about human nature, nevertheless understood that leadership must rest on something other than covering up crimes and scheming to punish alleged enemies. Americans idealize their presidents and hence expect them to meet the highest moral standards. People demand leaders better than themselves; the President symbolizes “legitimacy, continuity and morality”; and the country came together on the fundamental proposition that virtue mattered.”

Today, the veils have been lifted on the actuality of Washington and the American Government. Even still, we can be shocked and appalled by the actions of those we elect to represent us. Come to OccupyForum to watch The Final Days, and discuss what the hubris of Nixon meant for its time, and what the hubris our current president can mean for ours.

Time will be allotted for announcements. Donations to Occupy Forum to cover costs are encouraged; no one turned away!

We can also watch “Frost” or “All the President’s Men” depending on the wishes of the group.

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“Nonprofit pledges $100 million to aid SF’s chronically homeless” by Kevin Fagan

Daniel Lurie walks through the Tenderloin on his way to a meeting at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, July 20, 2011. Lurie, founder of Tipping Point, has raised $30 million since 2005 to help eradicate poverty in the Bay Area. Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle

Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle

A PUBLIC BANK FOR SAN FRANCISCO by Dr. Derek Kerr and Dr. Maria Rivero

( May 2017)

During the early 1900s, North Dakota’s economy was based on agriculture, specifically wheat. Frequent drought and harsh winters didn’t make it easy to earn a living. The arduous growing season was further complicated by grain dealers outside the state who suppressed grain prices, farm suppliers who increased their prices, and banks in Minneapolis and Chicago which raised the interest rates on farm loans, sometimes up to 12%.

North Dakotans were frustrated and attempts to legislate fairer business practices failed. A.C. Townley, a politician who was fired from the Socialist Party, organized the Non-Partisan League with the intent of creating a farm organization that protected the social and economic position of the farmer.

The Non-Partisan League gained control of the Governor’s office, majority control of the House of Representatives and one-third of the seats in the Senate in 1918. Their platform included state ownership and control of marketing and credit agencies. In 1919, the state legislature established Bank of North Dakota (BND) and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator Association. BND opened July 28, 1919 with $2 million of capital.

Where does money come from? It’s created from nothing – by banks. Because of fractional reserve banking, banks can lend $10 for every dollar they hold. By charging interest on this fabricated money, banks extract much more than they lend. Since loans are marked as deposits, they can also be sold for cash. Meanwhile, governments collect taxes and deposit them in big banks. By serving as intermediaries, banks profit from investing this money or lending it. Instead of fostering community development, most bank loans benefit other financial institutions, insurance and real estate companies, hedge funds and corporate raiders. Cuts in federal housing and urban development grants have locked cities into the private banking system. Averse to raising taxes or cutting budgets, cities obtain private credit via municipal bonds or public-private deals that reward investors and can double the costs of public projects. Private banks monopolize a wealth-transfer mechanism that enriches their executives and shareholders at taxpayer expense.

The deregulation-enabled and fraud-driven banking crash of 2008, the $700 billion public bail-out, and Federal Reserve’s multi-trillion dollar rescue measures converted public dollars into private profits. Then emerged a sordid history of predatory loans, falsified mortgages, improper foreclosures, concealed liabilities and phony AAA securities that banks pitched, then covertly bet against. After profiteering from deception, big banks have grown larger, less accountable and at greater risk of collapse due to massive speculative trading. Trillions of dollars in risky but lucrative derivative deals circulate in proprietary Dark Pools. Although the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill prohibited bail-outs for bad derivative trades, insolvency can now trigger “bail-ins” whereby banks confiscate depositor assets. Meanwhile, an uninterrupted stream of public looting scandals has come to light, notably, rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), the world’s benchmark interest rate, as well as currency exchange rates and municipal debt servicing auctions. These and a host of other violations yielded billions in pilfered profits despite billions in fines and settlements.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer directed the Budget Analyst to re-assess the feasibility of a city-owned bank. Treasurer Cisneros will also have an opportunity to re-assess his stance. With the ongoing risks and predations of private banks, threats of federal cuts to sanctuary cities, and revenue losses from denying bank services to the cannabis industry, a public banking option is needed.”

One antidote for these abuses is to establish public banks. Their purpose is public interest – not private profits. Run as public utilities under public oversight, they take tax receipts deposited by governments. They provide credit for public projects and local businesses and return profits to General Funds. Run by salaried civil servants, there are no commissions for boosting loans or pursuing speculation. This alternate paradigm works for the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only public bank. Founded in 1919 to support farmers who couldn’t get loans from commercial banks, it now finances infrastructure projects, and provides low-interest loans for students, farmers and public services. BND partners with local banks that lend to homeowners and small businesses. Over the past decade, it pumped some $300 million back into State coffers – one reason North Dakota was uniquely solvent during the financial crisis. In 2015, the BND’s Infrastructure Loan Fund offered 30-year loans – at 2% interest. Globally, 40% of banks are publicly-owned. Among US cities considering public banks are Oakland, Santa Fe, Philadelphia and Seattle.

San Francisco already has a template for public banking. In 2009, then-Supervisor John Avalos collaborated with Sociologist Karl Beitel, who went on to publish a monograph; “Municipal Banking: An Overview.” It showed how a public bank could recapture $68 million annually by purchasing the City’s short-term bonds. Pressed by soaring foreclosures and housing costs that displaced City residents, as well as the Occupy Wall Street and Move Your Money movements, in 2011 Avalos asked the City’s Budget and Legislative Analyst to research a City-owned bank. Harry Rose’s September 2011 report identified a major barrier: State law. Government Code section 27003 states: “a county shall not, in any manner, give or loan its credit to or in aid of any person or corporation.” However, a 6/21/13 City Attorney opinion concluded that as a charter city, San Francisco could establish its own bank. Ominously, State bills to create public banks (AB750 in 2011 and AB2500 in 2012) were vetoed or buried after opposition from the California Bankers Association, and the State Treasurer.

City Treasurer Jose Cisneros was guarded while testifying before the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee on 10/24/11. He admitted that the City deposited its funds with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Union Bank at a cost of $2.7 million/year. He emphasized his legal obligation to prioritize security, liquidity, and return, in that order, for City investments. There was no assessment of the security of City funds placed with Bank of America that co-mingles its $1 trillion in deposits with $70 trillion in derivatives. When such banks fail, the derivative claimants have “super-priority”, meaning that the City would get nothing. Cisneros vowed to adjust banking contracts to promote social responsibility.

In 2013, Cisneros asked UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy to “recommend policy alternatives” to increase access to credit for home-buyers, small businesses, and non-profits. However, the 2014 analysis itself, titled Promoting Access to Credit, shows that he requested recommendations for “existing financial institutions in the City” – not a public bank. The analysis found that the City’s policy of “attracting firms, job creation and providing incentives for the tech sector…inevitably leads…” to rising commercial and housing costs.

Cisneros’ current Investment Policy keeps “social responsibility” subordinate to security, liquidity, and returns. However, his “social responsibility screen” steers City investments away from firearms producers, major polluters, and predatory lenders. A foe of predatory banking, Cisneros uses public bank-like tools to boost community financing. In 2008 he advanced the Bank On SF program that partners with credit unions and “responsible banks” to provide low-income residents with low-fee accounts. Last year he suspended Wells Fargo from the program for opening 2 million sham accounts nationwide. His Kindergarten to College program used City and philanthropic funds to open $100 savings accounts for over 18,000 kids. This March, he was pushed by the Board of Supervisors to divest from banks that sponsor the Dakota Access Pipeline. Why not open a public bank?

E-mails obtained from the City Treasurer’s Office since 2011 reveal wariness, skepticism, and defensiveness toward public banking – and its proponents. Inquiries from Avalos and associates were cautiously tracked by the Treasurer’s Legal Section. Correspondence between City and regional treasury officials expressed these concerns;

  1. Conflicts of Interest: Can bank governance be insulated from politics? Will politics influence what projects get loans, or how bad debts are collected?
  2. Complexity & Cost: Can the City provide the necessary expertise and start-up capital?
  3. Risk-Management: Would prioritizing economic development loosen loan standards and put public funds at risk?

The Public Banking Institute has answers to these questions. And on 4/11/17 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer directed the Budget Analyst to re-assess the feasibility of a city-owned bank. Treasurer Cisneros will also have an opportunity to re-assess his stance. With the ongoing risks and predations of private banks, threats of federal cuts to sanctuary cities, and revenue losses from denying bank services to the cannabis industry, a public banking option is needed.

Dr. Derek Kerr and Dr. Maria Rivero and were senior physicians at Laguna Honda Hospital where they repeatedly exposed wrongdoing by the Department of Public Health. Contact:

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Updates & 4 Announcements (from Adrienne Fong)


A.  Man shot by police at Oceanview home released from custody

May 4, 2017

“…Pearlman in court also mentioned media reports that the officer who shot Moore, Officer Kenneth Cha, was the same officer who shot a man in the 900 block of Market Street on Wednesday after responding to what police have said was a stabbing in progress. That man, 26-year-old Nicholas Flusche, died at the scene….”

Mr.Moore’s original bail was set at $2Million. On May 4th he was released from jail on his own  OR with no bail!!

See item #1 for info on court appearance for Sean Moore and item #2 for Town Hall regarding SFPD Killing of Nicholas Flusche –both for Wednesday, May 10th. 

B.  South Korea set to change policy on North as liberal wins election

Moon Jae-in has won presidential election comfortably after predecessor ousted in corruption scandal

May 9, 2017

C.  Chelsea Manning on Impending Release: ‘Freedom Used to Be Something I Dreamed Of’

May 9, 2017

  (See item #4)

Reminder for the month of May and part of June check Indybay for  listings:


~ San Francisco ~

Occupy San Francisco Bulletin Board

4 Announcements

Wednesday, May 10

1.  Wednesday, 9:30am – 11:30am, Keep Sean Moore Free

Hall of Justice
850 Bryant St., Department 23, 3rd Floor

Support Sean Moore & Family as Assistant DA requests he be put in jail on false charges, after trigger-happy SFPD (who murdered a citizen last week) officer Kenneth Cha came to his home illegally and shot him in the leg and groin.


Free Sean Moore site:

2.  Wednesday, 11:30am, Town Hall Meeting RE: SFPD Killing of Nicholas Flusche  

969 Market St. – First Floor
San Francisco

SFPD will be holding a town hall meeting  on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 11:30 AM to provide the community with an update on the investigation of the officer involved shooting that occurred on the 900 block of Market Street on Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017.


Friday, May 12

3.  Friday, 12 Noon, Free The Jailed Korean Trade Unionists NOW! Democratic Rights For All Workers

Korean Consulate
3500 Clay St. (@ Laurel)

Rally & Speak Out

Free The Jailed Korean Trade Unionists NOW! 
Democratic Rights For All Working People In Korea 
Stop Privatization, Deregulation and Union Busting 

Free All Political Prisoners of Former Corrupt President Park Geun-hye 

Stop Militarization, THAAD and War Moves

The former President Park Geun-hye and her government have been impeached for corruption and violating the democratic, human and labor rights of the Korean people. She and her cronies were paid off by union busting corporations like Samsung, Hanjin and others to allow company unions, to deregulate health and safety and to harass and intimidate democratic trade unionists

Sponsor: United Public  Workers for Action


Wednesday, May 17th

4.  Wednesday, 6:00pm – 7:00pm,  CHELSEA MANNING’S PRISON RELEASE! (Codepink, World Can’t Wait & OccupySF will NOT be at Market & Post this week; but will joining this action)

Harvey Milk Plaza
Castro & Market Sts.

The San Francisco Bay Area community will gather for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia,

The San Francisco rally will focus on three subjects:

1. Demanding justice for victims of extreme LGBTQ persecution (E.g., The recent kidnapping (torture & killing of some) of 100 gay men in Chechnya  & opening of a concentration camp.) (E.g., Continuing transgender murders in America.)

2. Resistance to the Trump adminstration’s threat to LGBTQ people and families.

3. Celebrating US Whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s release from federal prison on May 17 with a show of solidarity for her continued wellbeing.
President Obama commuted all but four months of the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst convicted of a 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world.

    She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.”

The date of Manning’s liberation coincides with the IDAHOT, on May 17, which turns this decision into a much broader acknowledgement of the situation faced by Trans prisoners in US jails. May 17 is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 where same-sex acts are illegal, with 1600 events reported

Info from

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CodePink Tells Wells Fargo “Defund Toxic Pipelines” (by Peter Menchini)

Codepink and accomplices, including Jimminywinks (co-coordinator of BARC– Barkers Agitating for Reactor Closures), shut Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Oakland with a leaking Dakota Access Pipeline on Climate Mobilization Day 4/29/17. The Berkeley City Council will vote to divest from Wells on May 16, 2017. The Public Bank of Oakland can handle the City of Berkeley’s finances once it gets up and running!

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DEFENDERS OF BARACK OBAMA’S decision to do things like accept a $400,000 check for a speech to a Wall Street brokerage house argue that the former president might as well cash in — everyone else does.

That was Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s defense of Obama. “People are like why doesn’t he not accept the money? No, f*** that,” Noah said. “So the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards? No no no my friend. He can’t be the first of everything! F*** that, and f*** you. Make that money, Obama!”

This argument, while common, is based on historical ignorance. It assumes that presidents have always found a way to leverage their political connections post-presidency to make money from interest groups and wealthy political actors.

But that isn’t the case.

It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House — just ask Harry Truman.

When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, he was approached by many employers. The Los Angeles Times noted that if he was “unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he] has accepted none of them.”

One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than $100,000” — the sort of position that is commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would have been a good deal for both parties: the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company.

Truman declined. “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,” he wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle.

Although he had access to a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence, Mo., and insisted on being treated like anyone else. He would tell people not to call him “Mr. President,” and settled on a fairly ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He would take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office — not only people who wrote him big checks, or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands.

“Many people,” he once said, “feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs — they are right to some extent — and that they have a right to call upon him.” Indeed, his office number was even listed in a nearby telephone directory.

He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project that provided far from luxurious stipends.

Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension system that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff.

Gerald Ford nevertheless shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and was made an honorary director by Citigroup.

But his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains, Georgia, did not follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains, and was welcomed home by a crowd of neighbors and supporters.

He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency — but by serving ordinary people, not elites.

He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world — the post-presidency equivalent of small donors.

Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them that his “favorite president, and the one I admired most, was Harry Truman. When Truman left office he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.”

The presidents who came after did not choose the same path. At a time when Japan was a major trade rival with the United States, Ronald Reagan flew to Japan for a series of paid speeches after he left office. He accepted $2 million for a pair of 20-minute speeches to the Fujisankei Communications Group. An additional $5 million was arranged for expenses related to the visit.

Both Bushes also joined the paid speech circuit, and the Clintons made over $100 million from banks and other corporations, shortly after the Clinton presidency deregulated Wall Street. “I never made any money until I left the White House,” Bill Clinton lamented to a student group in 2009. “I had the lowest net worth, adjusted for inflation, of any president elected in the last 100 years, including President Obama. I was one poor rascal when I took office. But after I got out, I made a lot of money.”

Obama was hardly facing poverty. He already has a $65 million book deal and that $200,000 annual pension.

By joining the paid speech circuit — his spokesperson Eric Schultz told the press that paid speechmaking will be a fixture for the former president — Obama was making a conscious choice.

Obama could have been like Truman or Carter, but instead chose to be like Bush and Clinton.

Top photo: Former President Barack Obama listens as participants speak during a forum at the University of Chicago, on April 24, 2017.


Zaid Jilanizaid.jilani@​

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“The Brief Origins of May Day” by Eric Chase (

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers’ lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were “taken over” by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.

At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike “at the root of the evil.” A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that “whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave.”

Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that “the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction.” With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.

In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:

  • Workingmen to Arms!
  • War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
  • The wage system is the only cause of the World’s misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
  • One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
  • MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.

Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.

The names of many – Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg – became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers’ strength and unity, yet didn’t become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted.

More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers.

For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the “anarchist-dominated” Metal Workers’ Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.

Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up from the day before. This affair included families with children and the mayor of Chicago himself. Later, the mayor would testify that the crowd remained calm and orderly and that speaker August Spies made “no suggestion… for immediate use of force or violence toward any person…”

As the speech wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers’ wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police.

Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence.

Eight anarchists – Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg – were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. The jury in their trial was comprised of business leaders in a gross mockery of justice similar to the Sacco-Vanzetti case thirty years later, or the trials of AIM and Black Panther members in the seventies. The entire world watched as these eight organizers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs. On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg, in his final protest of the state’s claim of authority and punishment, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth.

The remaining organizers, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab, were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld, who publicly lambasted the judge on a travesty of justice. Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government conducted what some say was the very first “Red Scare” in this country. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. The common image of an anarchist became a bearded, eastern European immigrant with a bomb in one hand and a dagger in the other.

Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers’ Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began.

Over one hundred years have passed since that first May Day. In the earlier part of the 20th century, the US government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public’s memory by establishing “Law and Order Day” on May 1. We can draw many parallels between the events of 1886 and today. We still have locked out steelworkers struggling for justice. We still have voices of freedom behind bars as in the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. We still had the ability to mobilize tens of thousands of people in the streets of a major city to proclaim “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” at the WTO and FTAA demonstrations.

Words stronger than any I could write are engraved on the Haymarket Monument:


Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted – people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people can not be forgotten or we’ll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.

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