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Two years ago today, I posted a diary about May Day and the Haymarket bombing. I decided to repost it today in honor of those hung by a corrupt Chicago political and judicial system.

This was the first in the series that included:

May 3rd, 1886 - WORKINGMEN, TO ARMS!!

May 4th, 1886 - The Haymarket Bombing

May 5th, 1886 - Rounding up the Haymarket martyrs

(this is the first in a week-long series)

It happened here. In America. In Chicago.

I want to reclaim May Day as a national holiday. After our Independence Day celebrations, it is the most important day in America... but it is a day that isn't celebrated in this country. It is a day about free speech, free assembly, and the rights of American workers. It is why our country exists. It represents the democracy that we go to war for.

Yet, America's connection to May Day has nearly been erased from the history books.

And it has taken until today - May 1, 2006 - for America to reclaim May Day.

It was a pleasant Saturday - May 1, 1886 - in Chicago. It was not the beginning of the weekend - many workers in the city (and across the nation) were still toiling six days a week. But their rights continued to be eroded. Across America, workers marched for the enforcement of the 8-hour work day and better child labor protections. Our government had already passed legislation for the 8-hour day, but there was virtually no enforcement. Likewise, we have a community of workers marching today who, despite a federal minimum wage, are often paid a lower wage.

Like today's marchers, many of the workers of 1886 were non-English speakers. In Chicago, which saw 80,000 people marching down Michigan Avenue, a vast number of these workers were Germans. They were the most recent wave of immigrants - the stone haulers, the factory workers, the sewing girls, the beer makers... and they also kept their "well-regulated militia."

Leading the march was labor leader and newspaper publisher Albert Parsons, a former confederate soldier, whose ancestors landed on American shores in the 1630s. Several of his ancestors (including Maj. Gen. Samuel Parsons) served in Washington's Army during the revolution.

Marching beside Albert was his wife Lucy Parsons, a former slave (part-black, part-Mexican, part-Native American) who, with Albert, was one of the fiercest, most driven labor leaders in Chicago. Their two young children, Lulu and Albert Jr., also joined the march.

Parson's German counterpart in Chicago was August Spies, the gentlemanly editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the city's largest circulation German-language newspaper. Together they would fight the powers that be... and together they would hang for it.

Why Chicago?

Why 1886?

And how did this march end up with death sentences for Parsons, Spies and several other labor leaders?

Fifteen years earlier, the Irish were to blame for the fire the razed the city. A scapegoat was needed and those "no-good dirty Irish" were the most convenient to blame. The fire spread from Mrs. O'Leary's barn and created a firestorm that left little more than the Chicago Water Tower standing.

For the next fifteen years, Chicago's business community literally rebuilt the city on the back of the labor class. Tycoons Marshall Field and Potter Palmer (of Palmer House fame) were among those who took great pride in their new urban metropolis.

A classic divide was created. The "haves" like Marshall Field and the "have-nots" like the immigrant underclass. On one end of the scale were the wealthy residents of State Parkway and Dearborn Street, while on the other end were the sewing girls and cobblers who made department store dresses and shoes that they themselves could not afford to buy.

Ranting against these wrongs were Albert and Lucy Parsons, and August Spies. They became the targets of the "Red Squad", policeman and informers who infiltrated labor meetings. The mainstream media of the day smeared them and vowed that someday they would hang. Chicago's business community had a way of life that it was determined to protect... and it needed cheap labor and lax labor laws in order to insure a healthy profit. Aiding them was a dutiful press that fanned the anti-labor flames by describing the workers as filthy and godless.

It was the "anarchist" labor leaders that needed to be silenced. And silenced they were.

On May 1, 1886, Albert and Lucy Parsons, August Spies, and thousands of marchers across the nation marched and made their voices heard. It was the march heard around the world. But...

...two days later, the government and police retaliated.

More to come:
Wednesday May 3 - The murders at the McCormick factory
Thursday May 4 - The bomb at the Haymarket
Friday May 5 - The round-up begins.

Over the years there have been several Haymarket diaries. You can find them in this tag search for Haymarket. Sheddhead has a couple with great pix (of course!) and then there's BentLiberal's excellent diary - Class and Labor: The Haymarket "Riot"

Read and enjoy.

Originally posted to dannyinla on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:08 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you come to (7+ / 0-)

    Chicago, visit the Waldheim Cemetery.  Lots of great people resting there, some of them unofficially - it's a tradition for some on the left to have their ashes scattered there sans permission.

  •  The site of the Haymarket demonstration (6+ / 0-)

    has been scrubbed of memorials.  For those in Chicago, it was at the corner of Randolph and Desplaines on the Near West Side near the Kennedy Expressway.  Amazing that the site of the birth of the international labor movement has no memorial.

    "That's what killed Dennis Day-- contempt for the audience." -- Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra

    by Pangloss on Thu May 01, 2008 at 06:03:54 PM PDT

  •  Glad to see this coming around again. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw

    If I remember correctly, the first time you posted them or shortly after I was just starting James Green's Death in the Haymarket, so I was getting full-immersion Haymarket for a while.  From the first time I heard of the Haymarket martyrs 40 years ago the incident has held a fascination for me.

    Around the time you first posted I came across an article on Studs Terkel that had a great reference to the Haymarket:

    "I'm known around the block as a writer and broadcaster," Terkel tells me, "but also as that old guy who talks to himself. I never learnt to drive. Why should I have? The bus was there. So one day I'm on the corner alone, waiting for the 146. I'm talking to myself, finding the audience very appreciative. Then other people arrive; I talk to them too. This one couple ignore me completely. He's wearing Gucci shoes and carrying The Wall Street Journal. She's a looker. Neiman Marcus clothes. Vanity Fair under her arm. So I told them, 'Tomorrow is Labor Day: the holiday to ' honour the unions.' The guy gives me the kind of look Noël Coward might have given a bug on his sleeve. 'We despise unions.' I fix him with my glittering eye, like the Ancient Mariner, and I ask, 'How many hours do you work a day?' He tells me eight. 'How come you don't work 18 hours a day, like your great-grandparents?' He can't answer that. 'Because four men got hanged for you.' I explain that I'm referring to the Haymarket Affair, the union dispute here in Chicago in May 1886. The bus is late. I have him pinned against the mailbox. Then I say, 'How many days a week do you work?' He says five."

    Terkel laughs, and takes a sip of water. "I say: 'Five – oh, really? How come you don't work six and a half ?' He isn't sure. 'Because of the Memorial Day Massacre. These battles were fought, all for you.' I tell him about that massacre of workers, in Chicago, in 1937. He's never heard of these things before. She drops her Vanity Fair. I pick it up, being gallant. I am giving it to them now: the past. Because, like James Baldwin said, without the past, there is no present. The bus arrives. They leap in. I never see them again. But I'll bet... they live in an upscale condominium that faces the bus stop. I'll bet she looks down every morning, from the 20th floor, and he says: 'Is that old nut still down there?' And can you blame them?"
    World's Greatest Interviewer (The Independent)

    Hope I haven't hijacked your diary, but I just love that story.

    Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. -- George Bernard Shaw

    by dsteffen on Thu May 01, 2008 at 07:03:17 PM PDT

  •  Too late to tip, but this story (5+ / 0-)

    deserves to be told every May....
    Living in Chicago and growing up near Altgeld Gardens, I heard about the Haymarket from my parents. Where did they learn? Maybe from their schools, since my Dad did not finish HS and my Mom's parents didn't arrive here in the US until 1910. Even my Dad's parents didn't arrive in Chicago until the 20s. But being a Leftie or Socialist was popular during the Drepression, so it may have been from some old Wobblie.
    This story so needs to be told. In an era that demeans labor and labor unions and working people and wants to blame immigrants for all our problems....we have returned to the old scapegoats....xenophobia is alive and well.

    Woodlawn cemetary in Maywood has the memorial to the Haymarket. I have a photo somewhere.

    The statue of the Haymarket policeman stands near a building that treats DUI drivers by trying to get them to accept Jesus as their personal savior (state sponsored of course) and Oprah's studio is not far away, you could easily walk over there.

    All I want is....Impeachment followed by Imprisonment!

    by Temmoku on Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:08:07 PM PDT

    •  Ooops, Forest Lawn Cemetary in (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dsteffen, marykk

      Forest park, near Woodlawn. Woodlawn has the elephants from the circus train wreck.

      All I want is....Impeachment followed by Imprisonment!

      by Temmoku on Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:10:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm doing my part (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zett, dsteffen

      in trying to remind kossacks of the important of the Haymarket in our history.

      I've written a screenplay about Haymarket but I've yet to persuade anyone of the wisdom of telling this story.

    •  Consider the possibilty... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Erwin, dannyinla

      ...that your grandparents may have arrived already knowing the story and passed it to your parents.  We tend to think of these kind of things happening in isolated little local vacuums, but the fact is that at the time it happened, the progress of the trial was reported around the world, and has been remembered abroad to perhaps even a greater extent than it has here.

      James Green writes in his book Death in the Haymarket:

      Elsewhere, however, particularly in the Latin world, the Haymarket story was told and retold many times over.  Indeed, no other event in United States history after the Civil War exerted the kind of hold the Haymarket tragedy maintained on the popular imagination of working people in other countries, particularly in Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Uruguay, and Mexico, where exiled Spanish and Italian anarchists organized the first labor unions and led militant strikes and May Day marches in the decades after the Haymarket.


      While traveling in a remote tin-mining region of Bolivia during the 1980s, the writer Dan La Botz met a worker who invited him into his little home.  As he was eating dinner with the miner and his family, La Botz noticed a small piece of cloth hanging in the window, an embroidery that in the United States might have read GOD BLESS OUR HOME.  He moved closer to take a look and saw that it read LONG LIVE THE MARTYRS OF CHICAGO.

      The haymarket may be all but forgotten here, but others around the world have remembered it for us.

      Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. -- George Bernard Shaw

      by dsteffen on Sat May 03, 2008 at 10:10:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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