Farewell, Fellow Worker: Fred Majer

A condensed version of this obituary was published in ASR #78 (Winter 2020)

Stalwart Chicago anarchist Fred Majer, 71, was killed August 8 in an automobile accident in Madison, Wisconsin. His companion, Beth Maas, suffered minor injuries. Fred got involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement in his youth and moved inexorably to an anarchist perspective. He served as branch secretary of the Chicago General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World in the early 1970s and was also active in the Solidarity Bookshop. He was also a proud member and activist in Carpenters Union Local 1, the union of Haymarket anarchist Louis Lingg.

I met Fred in 1981 when he called a Chicago-wide anarchist conference with the aim of uniting Chicago’s anarchists into an active movement. Chicago Anarchists United and its successor, Some Chicago Anarchists, hosted a monthly anarchist forum for the next 20 years, and showed the colors at numerous demonstrations where we distributed leaflets explaining an anarchist perspective on the issues at hand. (We weren’t a “Black Bloc” but were more interested in communicating anarchist ideas to other people.) We also put out a more-or-less monthly newsletter in conjunction with the forum, Autonomy: For Individual and Collective Self Rule; much of the contents were Fred’s work.

In 1982 Fred led the way to establish the Autonomy Center, a meeting place and home for Fred’s literature distro project, Impossible Books. The Center hosted the monthly forum and opened itself up for meetings of other groups as well. It was at the Autonomy Center that plans for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the General Strike for the 8-hour Day of May 1, 1886, were hatched. The result of those plans was the Haymarket Anarchist Gathering from May 1 to May 4, 1986, that attracted over 400 anarchists from across the U.S. and Canada to Chicago and filled the streets in one of the largest May Day demonstrations in recent memory. One negative result of the Haymarket Gathering was a split in the CAU and the death of the Autonomy Center

It was during the lead up to the Haymarket Centennial that Fred led the resistance to the attempts of the liberals/social democrats of the Illinois Labor History Society to revise history and portray the Haymarket Anarchists as milk-toast social democrats. Every May Day thereafter (or weekend closest to May 1) we held a picnic at the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home (Waldheim) Cemetery with literature and refreshments. Fred often decorated the monument with the portraits of the martyrs and periodically challenged the ILHS revisionists when they came through with their tours.

Defending the legacy of the Haymarket Anarchists was one of Fred’s passions. When the ILHS convinced the U.S. Department of the Interior to declare the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument a National Historical Site in 1998, Fred mobilized Chicago anarchists to attempt to disrupt the dedication spectacle and let those who attended know that the Haymarket Martyrs were Anarchists Not Liberals. There is a video of that confrontation produced by LaborBeat called “Trainwreck of Ideologies.”

A few years later when some of the same forces got the city of Chicago to install a “Free Speech” sculpture at the site of the Haymarket Rally, with a ceremony including a speech by a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago anarchists were on hand to protest the travesty. See “Trainwreck of Ideologies II,” also by LaborBeat.

Another of Fred’s passions was opposition to war. When the Bush II regime invaded Iraq in 2003 Fred was among the 15,000 Chicagoans who took over Lake Shore Drive in protest. Subsequently Fred became more and more critical of the so-called anti-war “movement” in Chicago that became bogged down in mobilizing periodic marches through the empty streets of downtown Chicago, yelling at empty buildings. Fred felt that anti-war demonstrations should take place in the neighborhoods where people lived and would actually see and hear the opposition to war.  So he started the Northside Peace Gathering that met every Saturday in Logan Square for the next 16 years to protest war and capitalism.

In 2011 when the working class of Wisconsin rose up against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector workers Fred began travelling up to Madison to join the protests. After that upsurge died down Fred continued to travel to Madison to join ongoing protests in defense of workers’ rights.

On October 13 a few of Fred’s family and friends got together at Waldheim to scatter Fred’s ashes at the Monument. Fred was a comrade and friend who was not always easy to get along with, but he was dedicated to the fight against church, state and capital. He will be missed.

— Mike Hargis

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