Chicago Police Kill Labor Activists (Not Breaking)

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

(Orange version of this diary.)

The immigrant labor movement in this country has come full circle. The immigrants are from different countries and the jobs have changed some but the issues are the same as they ever were.

AriamendiOn a sunny April day, I paid a visit to my favorite bakery in San Franciso, the Arizmendi Bakery. Amongst the the beautiful baguettes and the sumptuous scones, I saw a sign stating that the bakery would be closed on May 1 to celebrate Labor Day – the same day it is celebrated in Europe and many other places.

Since Arizmendi Bakery is a worker owned cooperative it didn’t surprise me that they would chose the May 1 observation. (I always figured the US had a different date for cold-war reasons). It turns out there’s an important reason why the world celebrates Labor Day is on May 1:

It’s to commemorate a hard fought, yet forgotten victory for American and immigrant workers that took place right here in the United States: the May 1, 1886 Haymarket Protest in Chicago.

So why doesn’t the US celebrate this?

After that day at the bakery I decided to research the events of the Haymarket Square protest. What I found is a 120 year old story of workers and immigrants demanding their rights from the companies they worked for.

dannyinla sets the scene:

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…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.


There were an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in New York and 11,000 in Detroit. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin some 10,000 workers turned out. The movement’s center was in Chicago, where an estimated 40,000 workers went on strike. Albert Parsons was an anarchist and founder of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA). Parsons, with his wife Lucy and their children, led a march of 80,000 people down Michigan Avenue. Another 10,000 men employed in the lumber yards held a separate march in Chicago. Estimates of the total number of striking American workers range from 300,000 to half a million.

“On May 3 striking workers met near the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant. A fight broke out on the picket lines, and Chicago police intervened and attacked the strikers, killing two, wounding several others and sparking outrage in the city’s working community.”


In the end, two McCormick workers were killed (although some newspaper accounts said there were six fatalities). Spies would later testify, “I was very indignant. I knew from experience of the past that this butchering of people was done for the express purpose of defeating the eight-hour movement.”

Anarchists posted fliers announcing a protest against the killngs, to be held at the center of commerce: Haymarket Square. Local anarchist August Spies published his famous pamphlet “Revenge! Workingmen to Arms!”

Rally at Haymarket Square

The rally began peacefully under a light rain on the evening of May 4. August Spies spoke to the large crowd while standing in an open wagon on a side street. According to many witnesses Spies said he was not there to incite anyone. Meanwhile a large number of on-duty police officers watched from nearby. The crowd was so calm that Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr., who had stopped by to watch, walked home early. Some time later the police ordered the rally to disperse and began marching in formation towards the speakers’ wagon. A bomb was thrown at the police line and exploded, killing a policeman…; seven other policemen later died from their injuries…The police immediately opened fire on the crowd, injuring dozens. Many of the wounded ‘were afraid to visit hospitals for fear of being arrested. A total of eleven people died.

“Within hours…, the mayor of Chicago – Carter Harrison – who just hours before had described the Haymarket meeting as ‘tame’, now declared that: ‘Our great city cannot expect another day of lawlessness at the hands of the Anarchist forces that endanger our way of life.’

Even more succinctly, District Attorney Julius Grinnell stated to the press: ‘We’re making the raids first, and looking up the law later!’

And that’s exactly what they did. (dannyinla)

Labor has always been about immigrants.

Immigration was a big a factor in labor issues then as it is now. Of the 8 people arrested and charged with the murder of the police officer, 5 of them were German immigrants: August Spies,  Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Micheal Schwab and Louis Lingg. Oscar Neebe was German-American. The other two were Americans Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.

Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887. Lingg committed suicide in prison. The remaining three escaped hanging and were finally pardoned in 1893.

The prosecution did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing, but argued that the person who had thrown the bomb had been incited to do so by the defendants, who as conspirators were equally responsible.

The jury returned guilty verdicts for all eight defendants, with death sentences for seven. Neebe…received a sentence of 15 years in prison. The sentencing sparked outrage from budding labor and workers movements, resulted in protests around the world, and made the defendants international political celebrities and heroes within labor and radical political circles. Meanwhile the press had published often sensationalized accounts and opinions about the incident, all of which tended to polarize public reaction. Wikipedia


According to dannyinla, “The execution of the Haymarket martyrs effectively stalled the American labor movement for decades.”

The fame of the defendants led to the estabishment of May 1 as a commeration of the events and a day for labor and workers all over the world.

But in the United States in the late 1880’s, in order to disassociate labor movements from the “radical” left, a new Labor Day was established in September.

[P]resident Grover Cleveland believed that a May 1 holiday could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus, fearing that it might strengthen the socialist movement, he quickly moved in 1887 to support the position of the Knights of Labor and their date for Labor Day.

In 2006, proving that they understood history and that they appreciated the long-standing ties between immigrants and the labor movement, immigrant groups in the United States chose May 1 for a protest:

Many Americans are not even aware that May 1 is when Labour Day is celebrated throughout the rest of the world. However, in 2006, May 1st was chosen by immigrant groups in the United States as the day for the Great American Boycott, an attempted general strike of immigrant workers to protest H.R. 4437. link

The immigrant labor movement in this country has come full circle. The next time that someone tries to tell you that immigrant laborers have some nerve protesting for fair working conditions in the United States, you tell them that it’s as American as apple pie. The immigrants are from different countries and the jobs have changed some but the issues are the same as they ever were.



Arizmendi Bakery:

Why the Name Arizmendi?

dannyinla’s diaries:

May Day, 1886… and how four citizens came to hang

May 3rd, 1886 – WORKINGMEN, TO ARMS!!

May 4th, 1886 – The Haymarket Bombing

May 5th, 1886 – Rounding up the Haymarket martyrs

Wikipedia articles:

May Day

Labor Day (United States)

Haymarket affair

My previous diaries on this subject: here and here.


  1. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.

    Curiously enough, when I first broached this subject a few years ago, the wikipedia entry was called “The Haymarket Riot.”  

    Some smart people have since edited it.

    • RUKind on May 3, 2009 at 4:12 am

    Maybe we should celebrate Haymarket Week and try to educate the rest of the country every year starting April 1. DD would be a good place to start the tradition.


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