May 4 — What A Day — Part Two
The Haymarket massacre (or Haymarket riot) took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It became the September 11 of its time. It began as a rally in support of striking workers. An unknown person threw a bomb at police as they tried to disperse the rally.
May 4 1886: “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”
The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire from the police resulted in the deaths of seven police officers, mostly from friendly fire. An unknown but likely larger number of civilians were also killed.
In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were tried for murder. No concrete evidence linking any of them to the bombing was produced; yet amid a newspaper-driven media frenzy, all were convicted. Four were put to death, and one committed suicide in prison.
August Spies, one of anarchists who was executed, declared just before his hanging, on Nov. 11, 1887: “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”
The “Haymarket Martyrs” became double-edged symbols: on the one side for policemen, of the risks entailed in upholding “law and order”; on the other for the growing labor movement. Monuments to both now stand in Chicago. And the annual May Day rallies for workers right (not much in evidence in the US, but widely-observed elsewhere) trace their origins to Haymarket and its impact.
The sentencing sparked outrage from budding labor and workers movements, resulted in protests around the world and made the defendants international political celebrities and heroes within labor and radical political circles. Meanwhile the press published often sensationalized accounts and opinions about the Haymarket affair which polarized public reaction.In an article titled “Anarchy’s Red Hand”, The New York Times, described the incident as the “bloody fruit” of “the villainous teachings of the Anarchists”. The Chicago Times described the defendants as “arch counselors of riot, pillage, incendiarism and murder”; to other newspapers they were “bloody brutes”, “red ruffians”, “dynamarchists”, “bloody monsters”, “cowards”, “cutthroats”, “thieves”, “assassins”, and “fiends.”
The 8-hour day — the concrete goal of the labor organizing which produced the Haymarket rally, and the wave of repression that it encountered. For too many workers, in the US and around the world, the 8 hour day is still a distant goal.