The Eight Hour Day –Remembering Hay Market in Tripoli

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

                                                                        Rallying slogan of the 8 hour working day

                                                                        Movement of Chicago 1886.

The first secular holiday of Libya under the transitional council is the International Worker’s day.Earlier, other than Islamic holidays, the only secular holidays were those relating to the important dates on the calendar of the previous regime.

Remembering Hay Market

“No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair.  It began with a rally on May 4, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today. Although the rally is included in American history textbooks, very few present the event accurately or point out its significance.” –Bill Adelman

See related  links

Links to the Anti-slavery movement and American Civil War

How, Sylvis, a leading labor organizer,  asked, could a republic at war with the principle of slavery, make it a felony for a workingman to exercise his right to protest, a right President Lincoln had once celebrated as the emblem of free labor?… If the ‘greasy mechanics and horny-handed sons of toil’ who elected Abraham Lincoln became slaves to work instead of self-educated citizens and producers, what was to become of the Republic? (Suggested further reading


Some important dates linked to Haymarket

The Haymarket tragedy on 4th May 1886 led to the sentencing of its anarchist leaders, four of whom-Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel were hanged on 11th November 1887. The eight hour day struggle also brought out interesting differences between the trends of anarchism and communism in leading the working people’s struggles. These debates go on till today.

Conversations with an Unknown Worker-In Tripoli

In the post-Gaddafi Libya of today, we see how different groups and tendencies vie for position and power. There is a debate of who was more important –NATO or Islamists. Which law should be the model? Should religious parties be banned?

In this context I had an interesting discussion with a worker whose oft repeated slogan during the days of the conflict was

“Maphish Kahraba,  Maphish Benzene, Maphish Manjaria…   Muammar-Bas”

“No Electricity, No Benzene, No food-Only Muammar”

In his own small anonymous ways, he helped undermine the regime of Abu-Shafshoofa.

Abu Shafshoofa Tamlek-Graffiti in Tripoli

Abu-Shafshoofa-Tamlek- Bye Bye Abu-Shafshoofa-Graffiti in Tripoli

Why are you positioning for the grants from the government, I questioned him.

“We have been without proper salaries for several months. Some of our family never returned from the fighting. This is a support we can get in the interim period till things settle down.”

He clarified that only those who stayed behind during the whole period of conflict will be getting the grants.

“Those who went to Tunisia and waited it out cannot return and claim to be revolutionists and expect these grants.”

Dear Dom and Gaddafi -related conversations: A complex multifaceted history.

Another interesting conversation was related to the controversy generated by the movie “Dear Dom” and the legacy of Mintoffians in Maltese labour movement and politics of the country.

Malta has had historical ties with Libya.

“It is a complex history,” one veteran working in private health care sector explained the nuances. “When the British left Malta in 1979 they thought that we will starve. They did everything possible to make things difficult for the Maltese. It was Dom Mintoff’s vision and the support he got from quarters such as Libya which helped pay the salaries, develop the industries and services.”

“What about the political violence in the Mintoffian times?”  I asked him after reading the comments and debates

See links

The veteran who has seen both Libya and Malta from an insider’s perspective while being of Syrian origin  summed it up like this,

“Personalities and rulers like Gaddafi and Dom did some things for their country.

But there was a darker side of their regimes which the people will have to face up to, so that their societies can heal. He recalls the days when Dom would be yelling in the offices at Castille or the stories of disappearances during the Gaddafi period. The public face, the international relations machine showed one picture. The other picture is also there, which has to be addressed if these societies have to heal and move forward”

* * *

As we studied the complex histories of Hay Market, recalling the words of Albert Spies which we had remembered while pledging to stand by the Libyan people during their most testing time for a generation.

August Spies echoed back through time…

“The Time will come when our silence will be more powerful

than the voices you strangle today”

(Death in the Haymarket-1886)

The native informant, be it the unknown worker who is trying to seek his position in the post-Gaddafi Libya where many powerful forces are jostling for power, or the health care worker who is seeing the complex history of Middle-East and Mediterranean unfold, through direct experiences of Mintoffian and Gaddafi years, gave some interesting insights into this region.

While remembering some of those who did not survive these years the words of the writer Julius Fuchik came to mind

“I press the hand of every comrade who lives through this last battle, and those who come after us.

A handclasp for Gustina and for me; we who did our duty.

“And I repeat, we live for happiness, for that we went to battle, for that we die.

Let grief never be connected with our name.”

Does the 8 hour day remind us of the universality of the issues and rights of the working people across national boundaries?


About prashant bhatt

A psychologist, interested in mindfulness practices. I practiced medicine as a radiologist for 23 years in India and Libya as a radiologist before shifting to Canada. A regular diarist, journaling since 1983 Reading journal :
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5 Responses to The Eight Hour Day –Remembering Hay Market in Tripoli

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