Lucy Parsons was born into slavery in Texas, married a white radical, Albert Parsons, and moved to Chicago where they both worked on behalf of radical causes. After Albert Parsons was executed for conspiracy in the aftermath of the Haymarket bombing, Lucy Parsons emerged as a major American radical and vocal advocate of anarchism. In 1905, she spoke before the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
I wish to state to you that I have taken the floor because no other woman has responded, and I feel that it would not be out of place for me to say in my poor way a few words about this movement. 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; and I for one feel very backward in asking the men to represent me. We have no ballot, but we have our labor. I think it is August Bebel, in his Woman in the Past, Present and Future—a book that should be read by every woman that works for wages—Bebel says that men have been slaves throughout all the ages, but that woman’s condition has been worse, for she has been the slave of a slave.
There was never a greater truth uttered. We are the slaves of the slaves. We are exploited more ruthlessly than men. Wherever wages are to be reduced the capitalist class use women to reduce them …
… It is a bread and butter question, an economic issue, upon which the fight must be made. 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. Now, let us analyze that for just a moment, before you applaud me. First, the land belongs to the landless. Is there a single land owner in this country who owns his land by the constitutional rights given by the constitution of the United States who will allow you to vote it away from him? I am not such a fool as to believe it. We say, “The tools belong to the toiler.” They are owned by the capitalist class. Do you believe they will allow you to go into the halls of the legislature and simply say, “Be it enacted that on and after a certain day the capitalist shall no longer own the tools and the factories and the places of industry, the ships that plow the ocean and our lakes?”
Do you believe that they will submit? I do not. We say, “The product belongs to the producers.” It belongs to the capitalist class as their legal property. Do you think that they will allow you to vote them away from them by passing a law and saying, “Be it enacted that on and after a certain day Mr. Capitalist shall be dispossessed?” You may, but I do not believe it. Hence, when you roll under your tongue the expression that you are revolutionists, remember what that word means. It means a revolution that shall turn all these things over where they belong—to the wealth producers.
Now, how shall the wealth-producers come into possession of them? I believe that if every man and every woman who works, or who toils in the mines, the mills, the workshops, the fields, the factories and the farms in 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, and when your new organization, your economic organization, shall declare as man to man and woman to woman, as brothers and sisters, that you are determined that you will possess these things, then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army. Now, when you have decided that you will take possession of these things, there will not need to be one gun fired or one scaffold erected.
You will simply come into your own, by your own independence and your own manhood, and by asserting your own individuality, and not sending any man to any legislature in any State of the American Union to enact a law that you shall have what is your own; yours by nature and by your manhood and by your very presence upon this Earth. Nature has been lavish to her children. She has placed in this Earth all the material of wealth that is necessary to make men and women happy. She has given us brains to go into her storehouse and bring from its recesses all that is necessary. She has given us these two hands and these brains to manufacture them on a parallel with all other civilizations.
… Now, I thank you for the time that I have taken up of yours. I hope that we will meet again some time, you and I, in some hall where we can meet and organize the wage workers of America, the men and women, so that the children may not go into the factories, nor the women into the factories, unless they go under proper conditions.
I hope even now to live to see the day when the first dawn of the new era 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. I thank you.
Source:International Workers of the World, Proceedings of The First Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (New York: New York Labor News Company, 1905), 167-172. Available online via Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=ifRQAQAAMAAJ).