Today we honor the 130th anniversary of the Haymarket Affair, an important moment in labor history and the origin event to May Day, or International Workers’ Day. This event celebrated annually around the world actually has its roots in Chicago.
Starting May 1, 1886, labor unions across the United States began a general strike in support of the 8-hour workday. On May 3, police in Chicago shot into a crowd and killed several workers striking at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company Plant. In response, activists gathered on May 4 at Haymarket Square for another day of demonstrations. Upon the arrival of police, an unidentified person threw a bomb, inciting the police to pull their firearms against the crowd. Several policemen and workers were killed, and there was immediate public backlash against the “riot” and the labor movement. The leaders of the event were defended unsuccessfully against charges of murder and inciting violence by the great Clarence Darrow. Four of them were hanged. In the immediate years that followed, Haymarket seemed to have been great setback for the labor movement. However, in 1893, Illinois Governor John Altgeld recognized the great injustice that had occurred and pardoned all of the defendants. Eventually, the Haymarket Affair came to be acknowledged as the single most important event in U.S. labor history and the birth of the modern labor movement.
Portions of this video were shot for “Rocking the Boat,” a documentary on the labor movement produced by John de Graaf, Mirko Popadic, and Alan Harris Stein. You can watch a rough cut of the documentary at Media Burn.