Why is May Day a holiday celebrated all over the world, but not in the United States? The answer is piece of Chicago history pointing to the events culminating at Haymarket Square on May 4th, 1886.
As part of a campaign to establish an eight-hour workday planned two-years prior a national strike and protest was scheduled for Saturday, May 1, 1886. That day as many as a half-million workers may have walked off their jobs nationally, and in Chicago an estimated 80,000 people paraded down Michigan Avenue.
Two-days later at the McCormick Reaper Works, police and striking workers clashed, shots were fired, and two workers were killed. The following evening in response a crowd, estimated at 2,500, gathered at Haymarket Square to hear labor leaders speak and as this peaceful meeting was ending, police moved in to break up the gathering. A bomb was throw high in the air over the crowd by a still unknown assailant killing about four civilians and seven officers: Mathias J. Degan, John J. Barrett, George F. Miller, Timothy J. Flavin, Michael Sheehan, Thomas Redden, Nels Hansen and wounding as many 100, of this number 60 were police officers, including Officer Timothy Sullivan who succumbed to complications from his wounds two years later.
The incident shocked Chicago and the nation, particularly the power elite, who saw anarchist influences in the labor movement as a direct challenge to the social order and a threat to power. Eight men, labeled Anarchists, were tried in what was literally the trial of the century. The impact of the Haymarket affair still echoes today as most Americans have no concept of May Day or what is known elsewhere as International Workers’ Day. Join the Windy City Historians in this episode as we talk with Historian Dominic Pacyga and author and attorney Thomas Geoghegan about these events and continued relevance of the labor movement in Chicago and the nation.
Links to Research and Historic Sources:
- The Haymarket Affair
- The book, Anarchy and Anarchist, by Michael J. Schaack, Captain of Police, Chicago, 1889.
- Illinois Labor History Society
- Eulogy At Waldheim Cemetery Delivered by Captain William P. Black, Attorney for the Haymarket defendants, who had been executed on November 11, 1887
- Anarchism in Germany
- How the Nobel Prize Was Born: A Surprising Story of Bad Journalism, Existential Guilt, and Dynamite
- “Educate Fools,” by Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic, January 20, 2020
- The book, Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement, by Thomas Geoghegan
- “The Only Alderman Who Stood Up to Richard J. Daley,” by Daniel Hautzinger with a video segment from WTTW Chicago Tonight, February, 25, 2019
- The book, Challenging the Daley Machine: A Chicago Alderman’s Memoir, by Leon M. Despres
- Chicago: A Biography, and other books by author and historian Dominic Pacyga
- “The Pardon of the Haymarket Prisoners,” by Governor John Altgeld, June 26, 1893
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