The Haymarket Massacre

haymarket memorial
Photo Credit

Capital versus Labor. The age old Chicago question. After an extreme increase in wealth after the Industrial Revolution, capital and labor quarreled mercilessly in the newly industrialized

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A mostly uncelebrated holiday in America but widely recognized

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abroad is May Day. Many Americans might know about the May Day Pole and flower baskets but haven’t heard the story about how May Day began and what its original purpose was in Chicago. The rising tension between capital and labor eventually culminated in the Haymarket Massacre at the McCormick Works factory in Chicago in 1886. Within a matter of fifty years Chicago had been transformed from a mere trading center to a mecca of international manufacturing. Due to advances in agriculture many farm laborers found themselves replaced by machines and hundreds of thousands flocked to the city to gain employment at these newly formed industries. However, along with this urbanization came many social problems including crime, poverty, and vast inequality.

The workers

that made up labor in Chicago at this time were largely Western European immigrants originating from Germany and Ireland. They were unskilled and often forced to take the worst jobs. Many of them did not know English and quickly joined the rising Socialist movement advocating for a living wage, safer working environments, and job security. Albert Parsons, a vocal labor leader for the International Working People’s Association, led a march of an estimated 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue on May 1st, three days prior to the Haymarket incident, to protest for the implementation of an eight hour work day. Business leaders in Chicago saw this unionization and organization, along with Socialist tendencies, to be a direct threat to their well being.

On May 3rd this battle between Capital and Labor reached an inevitable head when two protesting strikers were killed after a confrontation with the police. The unchecked brutality was all it took to create the spark that would eventually ignite a powder keg of class conflict

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Not only was Chicago overrun by this growing labor movement or threat, but now these workers had something to rally around. A large police gathered to monitor the strikers on the night of May 4th.

When the police arrived on the night of May 4th they found a largely peaceful assembly of striking workers listening to various different leaders speak. The rally was so tame, many of the law enforcement officers along

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with the Mayor of Chicago saw it as no threat and left early. At 10:30pm the police ordered the rally to end and began marching in the direction of the striking workers. It’s the following moment that still remains cloudy today. A pipe bomb was thrown and exploded from somewhere in the crowd. Police began to open fire on the crowd of workers and there are conflicting reports on whether or not the workers fired back. After shooting ceased, there were around 60 police officers wounded and 8 killed, with an unreported number of civilian casualties with four deaths.

The newspapers the next morning warned of an Anarchist takeover and revolution that must be quelled. Eight men associated with the rally were quickly arrested for throwing bombs and subsequent police carnage. The New York Times warned of the incident as the “bloody fruit of the villainous Anarchists”. While the Chicago Times labeled the men “”red ruffians”, “dynamarchists”, “bloody monsters”, “cowards” and worse.

The men were quickly brought to trial and found guilty on all accounts, although there was never any credible evidence issued against them. On November 11, 1887 Albert Parsons along with three others were hanged for this crime.

The Haymarket trial is largely seen “as one of the worst

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The aftermath of the Haymarket incident lead to an international outcry for labor rights and soon after May Day was founded to commemorate the eight hour movement in Chicago. Thus, May Day is largely celebrated around the

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America where it originated in the Windy City.

– David Lucas, UPchicago Guest Contributor

For more on the Haymarket Massacre, we recommend a visit to the Chicago History Museum or checking out one of these great sources:

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