Today November 11 1887, the Haymarket martyrs were hanged, wrongfully convicted for the deaths of eight police during a Chicago labor rally.
The Haymarket affair refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight hour day, but the police then attempted to break up the public gathering. An unknown person threw a bomb at police as they acted to disperse the meeting. The bomb blast and ensuring gunfire resulted in the death of seven police officers and at least four civilians.
This was a time of mass strikes and demonstrations and violent repression by the police. The demonstrators were calling for greater power and economic security and the overthrow of capitalism, and were gaining much popular support, a reason why their were some who wanted to destroy the movement.
Four unarmed strikers had been shot and killed the day previously, and there were believed to be many spies and infiltrators among the strikers, and to this day many believe the Haymarket martyrs were used as scapegoats to stoke up division and resentment.
The next day martial law was declared, not just in Chicago but throughout the nation. Anti labor governments across the world used the Chicago incident to crush local union movements. Labor leaders were rounded up, houses were entered without search warrants and union newspapers were closed down
Inevitably anarchists were rounded up, and treated to what today would be termed rough justice, with August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer and George Engel being executed. A fifth, 23 ear old Louis Lingg killed himself in his cell the night before.
Engel, Fischer, Parsons and Spies were taken to the gallows in white robes and hoods. They sang the Marsellaise, then the anthem of the international revolutionary movement. According to witnesses , in the moments before the men were hanged .Spies shouted, " The time will come when our silence, will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!" Witnesses reported that the condemned men did not die immediately when they dropped, but strangled to death slowly, a sight which left the speakers visibly shaken.
250,000 people lined Chicago's streets during Parsons funeral procession, with the executions eliciting an international outcry.
The Haymarket affair is now generally considered significant as the origin of the International May Day observances for workers, when in July 1889, a delegate from the American Federation of Labor recommended at a Labor conference in Paris that May 1 be set aside as International Labour Day n memory of the Haymarket martyrs and the injustice metered out to them, and has become a powerful reminder of the international struggle for workers rights, that I for one try not to forget.