|Haymarket Martyrs (Public Domain)
The Knights of Labor had been agitating for the eight hour work day for years, drawing in hundreds of thousands of workers who opposed capitalist power. On May 1, 1884, The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, forerunner of the AFL, resolved that "8 hours shall constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886."
By May 1, 1886, workers were taking to the streets to demand the 8-hour day. The movement was centered in Chicago. 50,000 workers were already on strike, with 30,000 more joining their ranks the next day, bringing Chicago manufacturing to a standstill. On Monday, May 3, a fight broke out at McCormick Reaper between locked-out unionists & non-unionist scabs. Heavily armed police moved in with clubs and guns, killing four unionists and many wounded.
Anarchists, led by August Spies and Albert Parsons, called on workers to arm themselves and to attend a demonstration in Haymarket Square on May 4. Expecting a huge crowd, only 3,000 showed up. At the meeting, a bomb was thrown, killing seven police. 67 were injured. The identity of the assailant was never determined, though many speculate that it was a police or capitalist provocateur.
|Poster for Haymarket Meeting (Pub Dom)
The bombing created hysteria and led the police to round up anarchists throughout the city, including Spies and Parsons. Most of those arrested were not even in attendance at the Haymarket meeting and no evidence ever linked them to the bombing. Ultimately, eight anarchists were tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On November 11, 1887, four were executed, including Parsons and Spies. 250,000 people attended Parson’s funeral procession to express their outrage at the miscarriage of justice.
The Haymarket tragedy became a symbol of the inequality and injustice of capitalism for radicals and trade unionists throughout the world, inspiring annual May 1 rallies in virtually every country in the world. May Day is still celebrated as International Workers Day. The United States, ironically (or deliberately, to white wash its sordid and violent history of suppressing labor) is one of the only countries that does not celebrate May 1 as International Workers Day.