May Day is here....
Musing on martyrdom...
May 1st & the Haymarket Martyrs
by Dancing Larry
Sun May 1st, 2005 at 18:11:17 PDT
So today is May 1st. Some small handful of those who visit this site may
recall a now quaint and almost forgotten political movement known as
"socialism". No day in the calendar was more important to the "socialists"
than May 1st. All around the world it came to be recognized as International
Workers Day, the day to honor working people and their struggles for social and
economic justice. One of the few countries where May 1st was not so celebrated
was the United States. And therein lies an irony, for the reason for the
choice of that day began right here.
More below, but first, a moment of silence for the Haymarket Martyrs.
On May 1, 1886, led by Albert Parsons of the Chicago Knights of Labor, 80,000
Chicago workers marched down Michigan Avenue, demanding the establishment of an
8 hour workday, and in solidarity with workers on strike at the great McCormick
Reaper works. The call sent out from that march resonated immediately around
the country, and upwards of 300,000 marched in similar demonstrations across
the country inn the next few days.
At a follow-up rally on May 3rd, 6,000 Chicago workers led by August Spies,
editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), marched to the McCormick
plant to set up a picket line to stopscabs from replacing the striking workers.
The Chicago Police arrived almost immediately and opened fire on the
demonstrators, killing four and wounding dozens more. Spies called a rally for
the following night at Haymarket Square to denounce the police riot.
The rally on the evening of May 4th, attended by 2,500, went peacefully,
despite the tension of the situation. Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison,worried
about the situation, observed the rally from the beginning. Recognizing that
the rally would be peaceful, he advised Police Captain John Bonfield to send
the large force of police at the neighborhood station house home. At about
10pm, with rain starting to fall, the rally wound down, and the crowd had
largely dispersed. Only about 200 people remained in the square, when suddenly
Bonfield and about 180 police arrived at Haymarket Square, demanding the
remnant to disperse immediately. What happened thereafter was chaos, and the
facts have never been fully ascertained, but from somewhere a bomb was thrown
into the ranks of the police. The police response was to fire indiscriminately
into the crowd. The total number killed and injured by the bomb and the
police firing remains unknown to this day.
Beginning that night, and for weeks following, a massive crackdown on all
elements of the labor movement in Chicago was carried out by the authorities,
with the press and the preachers whipping the city into an atmosphere of
hysteria. Meeting halls, union offices, printing works and private homes were
raided. All known socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Even many
individuals ignorant of the meaning of socialism and anarchism were arrested
and tortured. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards" was the
public statement of Julius Grinnell, the state's attorney.
Eventually eight people were put on trial for the bomb throwing: Parsons,
Spies, Samuel Fielden, and five anarchists active in the labor movement, Adolph
Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe. The jury
was composed of businessmen, their clerks, and a relative of one of the dead
There was no evidence ever presented that any of the eight men had anything to
do with throwing the bomb, or even that there was any anticipation of violence.
On the stand, Mayor Harrison described the speeches as "tame"; Parsons had in
fact brought his two small children to the rally. It didn't matter; in the
hysteria following the event, the labor and anarchist affiliations of th
accused were sufficient to bring back guilty verdicts, seven sentenced to
death, Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for
their release, the state 'compromised' and commuted the sentences of Schwab and
Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide
in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons,
Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.
600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The campaign to free
Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued. On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set
them free. He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he thought
the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for
which they had been tried. They and the hanged men had ben the victims of
"hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge".
Today, who remembers or cares about Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph
Fischer, Louis Lingg, and George Engel and what they fought and died for?