Today in history May 4, 1886, the Haymarket Square Riot took place. A day after police had killed four striking workers,injuring several others protestors. This was a time of violent repression by the police. The demonstrators were calling for greater power and economic security, standing against capitalism, calling for an eight hour day and to protest about the increased brutality of the police.
At the May 4th meeting a number of radical and anarchist speakers addressed a crowd of over 3,000 people. The meeting was peaceful but the mood became more confrontational when the police tried to disperse the crowd. As scuffles broke out, someone who has never been positively identified threw a bomb at police lines.. (some have since claimed was an agent provocateur in the pay of the authorities to try and stoke up division.) The bomb landed and exploded unleashing shrapnel. One officer was killed and several were wounded. The police responded by drawing their weapons and firing into the panicked crowd. Seven policemen were killed, most likely from police bullets fired in the chaos, not from the bomb itself. Four civilians were also killed and more than hundred persons injured.
The aftermath created widespread hysteria, further repression and a national wave of xenophobia, as hundreds of foreign born radicals and labor leaders were rounded up in Chicago and elsewhere in what is seen as the first great political witch hunt and frame up trial, used as an excuse to crack gown on the entire labor movement. A grand jury eventually indicted 31 suspected labor radicals in connection with the bombing, and eight anarchist leaders form the revolutionary syndicalist tradition were convicted of instigating violence and conspiring to commit murder. in a controversial trial, despite lack of evidence and no connection to the actual bomb. Judge G Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of the men, and the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison.In what is seen as a racist show trial, which like all kangaroo courts was a travesty of justice. Many of the accused not even present when the incident took place.
These men have become known as the Haymarket Martyrs, Albert Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer and George Engel who were tried and convicted and executed for their political beliefs, not for their actions on May 3th, who still occupy an honored history of the class struggle in the United States and internationally whose sacrifice is remembered every year on May 1st International Workers Day, whose deaths sparked protests around the world. Six hundred thousand working people turned out for their funeral.
When one of the accused Albert Spies mounted the gallows and a noose was placed around his neck he shouted out. " There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful, than the voices you strangle today."
Rather than suppressing labor and radical movements the events of 1886 and the execution of the Chicago Anarchists, actually mobilised and galvanised a new generation of radicals and revolutionaries. Emma Goldman a young immigrant at the time later pointed to the Haymarket affair as her political birth. Lucy Parsons widow of Albert Parsons , called up on the poor to direct their anger at those responsible - the rich. In 1938 , fifty-two years after the Haymarket riot , workdays in the United States were legally made eight hours by the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is up to us to keep the memory of the Haymarket martyrs alive. to learn the lessons of their struggle so that they did not die in vain, acting as enduring symbols of labors struggles for justice.