Berkeley / East Bay

Gray Panthers Newsletter

June 2014

6501 Telegraph Ave.- Oakland CA 94609

Tel: (510)595-9696

June Membership Meeting

The meeting on Wednesday June 25 will feature
Richmond's Mayor Gayle McLaughlin
speaking on this topic:
The Road to a Progressive Future Runs through Richmond, CA

North Berkeley Senior Center, 1:30pm

===Gray Panther Committee Meetings====

Board Meeting:
June 18, 2014 2:00pm
At Niebyl-Proctor Library

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Become a member of Gray Panthers!

Dues: $35/year ($15 low income)
Send us your name and mailing address.
Traffic Tickets can also be worked off by volunteer work for Gray Panthers

Living Graveyard

Third Mondays, Noon - 1:00pm.
date subject to change –– check
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street (two blocks from 12th Street BART)
People lie down on the city sidewalk in front of the Federal Building, covered with sheets to represent the dead, The names of some of the Californians who have died in Iraq and the names of some of the Iraqi dead are read during the event. A gong is sounded after each name.
Please bring a white sheet. A pad to lie on is recommended.
Info: Ecumenical Peace Institute, (510)990-0374.

Tax the Rich Rally

Every Monday 5-6pm at top of Solano Av in Berkeley to protest the inequality of taxes in our country. We hold signs saying “Tax the Rich” and “Tax the Big Corporations.” Cars passing by honk in support. Pedestrians take leaflets.

The signs and leaflets present information about the impact of tax inequities in our society, and how we must work together to bring about essential changes so that the rich and big corporations pay their fair share.

Monthly Peace Rally

Gray Panthers and Strawberry Creek Lodge sponsor a Peace rally,
every 3rd Friday, at Acton and University in Berkeley.
Come on June 20 2-3pm to sing, wave signs and listen to car honks.
For info, Call 841-4143

Minimum Wage

On May 29, the California Senate approved a measure that would would lift the pay floor to $13 an hour by 2017.

The bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, comes about a month before the state's minimum wage is set to increase from $8 an hour to $9 in July as part of legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year that also included another $1 per hour by 2016.

Leno's SB 935 would override and increase the ladder raise as minimum wage would move to $11 in 2015, $12 in 2016 and $13 by 2017. Starting in 2018, the bill calls for additional adjustments annually for inflation.

The bill is sponsored by the Women's Foundation of California and SEIU California State Council and is now headed to the state Assembly for consideration.

Previously, on May 6, the City Council of Berkeley approved a minimum wage ordinance. On January 1, 2015 the minimum wage in Berkeley will be $10 an hour, which was to be only a dollar more than the State minimum wage law. On January 1, 2016, the minimum wage will rise to $10.75. So it will be two years before it reaches the current minimum wage in San Francisco.

Seattle's city council on June 2 unanimously approved an increase in the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour, making it the nation's highest by far.

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Report on May Membership Meeting

The May 2014 membership meeting of the Gray Panthers of the East Bay was held at North Berkeley Senior Center on Wednesday, May 28.

There was no formal speaker. Instead, Gray Panther Co-Convenor Edie Hallberg booked a performance of the “Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus” (of which she is a member).

The Chorus did a great job presenting one of their pieces -- a program of recitations and songs about the history of May Day, including the movement for an 8-hour day and the story of the Haymarket riot.

May 1st, May Day, started as an ancient European Spring holiday. Since 1893, May 1st has been International Workers' Day, celebrated as a national holiday in most countries of the world (not the USA).
May 1 was chosen as the date for International Workers' Day to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago that occurred on May 4, 1886.

We heard about Albert Parsons, who ran a newspaper after the Civil War, which took the unpopular position of supporting reconstruction measures aimed at securing the political rights of liberated slaves.

In 1873, Albert married Lucy Gonzales, a woman of Mexican and Creek Indian background. (At that time, mixed race marriages were forbidden.)

Albert and Lucy Parsons moved to Chicago in 1873, where Albert obtained a job as a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Times. He became interested in the growing movement to establish the 8-hour day.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the push for an eight-hour workday was geared primarily toward raising the hourly wage. The idea was that by maintaining the current weekly pay while lowering working hours, a fairer rate of pay would result. The slogan, “Whether you work by the piece or work by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay,” seemed to carry the mood of the day.

Starting in 1885, the movement for the 8-hour day swept the United States like a religious crusade.

♫ ♫ The Labor Chorus sang an “Eight Hours” song.

And we want to smell the flow'rs
We are sure that God has willed it
And we mean to have eight hours;
We're summoning our forces
From the shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest
Eight hours for what we will.

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In 1884 it was declared by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions that May 1, 1886 would be the day when the eight-hour day would become law. Labor organizations across the country prepared for a general strike to be held on that date. Police and militias prepared in case things became violent. Patrol wagons circulated on the streets of Chicago. The newspapers warned of a “communist insurrection.”

♫ ♫The Labor Chorus sang “When May Day Comes, We’ll Have Our Say.”

On May 1 of 1886, some 300,000 rallied. Every railroad serving Chicago was stopped. It was a sunny Saturday, about 80,000 marched in the streets, peacefully. There was no bloodshed.

Rallies were held throughout the country. Estimates put 10,000 strikers in New York, 11,000 in Detroit, and 90,000 in Chicago, which had the largest rally that day. These rallies were impressive not only because of their size, but because of their diversity. Blacks and whites stood together on this day, something that was almost unique in this time period. As demonstrators marched down the street, police and militias armed themselves and prepared to intervene at the slightest hint that things would become rough. These concerns were completely unfounded and the day went by peacefully.

On Sunday, May 2, Albert Parsons went to Ohio to organize rallies there, while, in Chicago, Lucy and others staged another peaceful march of 35,000 workers. But on Monday, May 3, the peaceful scene turned violent when the Chicago police attacked and killed picketing workers at the McCormick Reaper Plant at Western and Blue Island Avenues. This attack by police provoked a protest meeting which was planned for Haymarket Square on the evening of Tuesday, May 4. Very few textbooks provide a thorough explanation of the events that led to Haymarket, nor do they mention that the pro-labor mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, gave permission for the meeting.

The Haymarket meeting was almost over and only about two hundred people remained when hey were attacked by 176 policemen carrying Winchester repeater rifles. Fielden was speaking; Lucy and Albert Parsons had left because it was beginning to rain.

Then there was an orange flash and a boom! Someone, unknown to this day, threw the first dynamite bomb ever used in the peacetime history of the United States.

The police panicked, and in the darkness many shot at their own men. Eventually, seven policemen died, only one directly accountable to the bomb. Four workers were also killed.

In Chicago, labor leaders were rounded up, houses were entered without search warrants and union newspapers were closed down.

The next day martial law was declared, not just in Chicago but throughout the nation.

Eventually eight men, representing a cross section of the labor movement were selected to be tried. Among them were Fielden, Parsons, Oscar Neebe and a young carpenter named Louis Lingg, who was accused of throwing the bomb. Lingg had witnesses to prove he was over a mile away at the time.

A jury found them guilty, and they were sentenced to death. Their appeals were denied; the Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction.

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A year after the trial, four of the convicted anarchists - Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel - were hanged. Louis Lingg, a twenty-one-year-old carpenter, blew himself up in his cell by exploding a dynamite tube in his mouth. Three remained in prison. The executions aroused people all over the country. There was a funeral march of 25,000 in Chicago.

Some evidence came out that a man named Rudolph Schnaubelt, supposedly an anarchist, was actually an agent of the police, an agent provocateur, hired to throw the bomb and thus enable the arrest of hundreds, the destruction of the revolutionary leadership in Chicago. But to this day, it has not been discovered who threw the bomb.

While the immediate result was a suppression of the radical movement, the long-term effect was to keep alive the class anger of many, to inspire others - especially young people of that generation - to action in revolutionary causes.

Sixty thousand people signed petitions to the new governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, who investigated the facts, denounced what had happened, and pardoned the three remaining prisoners.

♫ ♫The Labor Chorus presentation ended with a finale -- a stirring rendition of “The Internationale”

There was long applause from the Gray Panther audience.

We all enjoyed the presentation by the Rockin’ Solidarity Labor Chorus. It is good to be reminded of our history, of the long struggle of the labor movement to secure things that working people take for granted today – such as the 8-hour day. Hearing the labor songs sung with enthusiasm reminds us of how effective music has been to inspire people involved in any struggle.

The Labor Chorus sang numerous other songs.
For a more detailed version of this report, and audio links to listen to some of the songs, go to