By Monica Moorehead
April 30, 2017
It is fitting to honor the fighting spirit of Lucy Gonzales Parsons on May Day — International Workers Day — since she was one of its founders in 1886. Parsons was a woman of African, Mexican and Indigenous descent who was born into slavery in Texas in 1853.
She and her spouse, Albert Parsons, were forced to leave Texas due to miscegenation decrees that outlawed interracial marriages. Albert was white and helped register formerly enslaved Black people to vote during Reconstruction.
They moved to Chicago, an emerging industrial center during the 1870s where the battles between the mainly immigrant working class and the bosses were emerging; where working conditions were intolerable because there were virtually no collective bargaining contracts; where workers were worn down like machinery by profit-hungry capitalists.
In 1877, a major railroad strike helped lay the basis for the national fight for the eight-hour day, a goal that would come to the forefront nine years later.
Lucy Parsons emerged as an important labor leader along with Albert, who became a Haymarket Square martyr. She was declared by the Chicago police as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”
A supporter of anarchist and anti-racist causes, she defended Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists falsely accused of murder who were executed, and the Scottsboro Brothers, nine Black youth framed for the rape of two white women in Alabama.
She was one of two women, the other being Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World. The union welcomed all workers, regardless of nationality, religion, gender or skill, into its ranks.
Lucy was a fierce anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, and above all else, a socialist, who wanted to empower the workers through revolution. Below is an excerpt from a speech she gave in 1905 at an IWW convention:
“We, the women of this country, have no ballot even if we wished to use it, and the only way that we can be represented is to take a man to represent us. You men have made such a mess of it in representing us that we have not much confidence in asking you. …
“We [women] are the slaves of slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men. Whenever wages are to be reduced the capitalist class use women to reduce them, and if there is anything that you men should do in the future it is to organize the women. …
“Now, what do we mean when we say revolutionary Socialist?
“We mean that the land shall belong to the landless, the tools to the toiler, and the products to the producers. … I believe that if every man and every woman who works, or who toils in the mines, mills, the workshops, the fields, the factories and the farms of our broad America should decide in their minds that they shall have that which of right belongs to them, and that no idler shall live upon their toil … then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army. …
“My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production. …
“Let us sink such differences as nationality, religion, politics and set our eyes eternally and forever toward the rising star of the industrial republic of labor; remembering that we have left the old behind and have set our faces toward the future. There is no power on earth that can stop men and women who are determined to be free at all hazards. There is no power on earth so great as the power of intellect. It moves the world and it moves the earth. …
“I hope even now to live to see the day when the first dawn of the new era of labor will have arisen, when capitalism will be a thing of the past, and the new industrial republic, the commonwealth of labor, shall be in operation.”
Source of speech: Minutes of 1905 IWW Convention in Chicago, Tamiment Library of New York University’s Bobst Library.