While I’m all for celebrating honest labor, I’m not for celebrating dishonest thugs. Here’s a brief look at the Union Violence through the years.
1.The Haymarket Square Incident, May 1886
Led by the Knights of Labor (one of the first national unions), workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. in Chicago began a strike in the hope of gaining an 8-hour work day. Two days later, on May 3, police were used to protect strikebreakers and a scuffle broke out; one person was killed and several others injured.
On Tuesday May 4, a mass meeting of workers was called to protest the police actions the previous day. A crowd of 20,000 had been expected but it was a cold rainy day, so only about 2,500 showed up to hear speeches by Albert Parsons, Samuel Fielden and August Spies.
Responding to pressure from businessmen, 600 police reserves were called in duty that night at the West Chicago, Harrison and Central stations near the site of the protests. An extra 100 officers were added to the Des Plains station, less than a half block from Haymarket Square.
The rally began at 8:30 pm and the crowd was calm (and wet from the rain). Chicago Mayor Harrison rode by on his horse a short time later and was satisfied that the protest was peaceful. He ordered the police inspector to send the reserve officers home. The police inspector refused and two hours later, he ordered his men to disperse the crowd. The speakers were approached by Police Captain William Ward, who commanded the meeting to end in the “name of the people of Illinois.” Just then, a pipe bomb was thrown from a vestibule at Randolph and Des Plaines Streets. The bomb exploded in the middle of a column of police. One officer was killed instantly and six others were mortally wounded. The remaining officers quickly recovered and began shooting wildly into the fleeing crowd of laborers. The shooting continued for more than five minutes.
Looking for the person(s) who threw the bomb, officers began a reign of terror among working class citizens in Chicago. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, beaten and interrogated at all hours of the night. “Confessions” were beaten out of those thought to be “anarchists” or sympathizers of the labor unions.
Despite the brutal response, the person responsible for the bombing was never caught. Nevertheless, in the end, eight anarchists were put on trial and seven were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Four were hanged in November 1887, one committed suicide and three were later pardoned by Illinois governor, John Peter Altgeld.
The Haymarket Massacre was an event that changed the direction of the American Labor movement. It delayed acceptance of the Knights of Labor’s key issue, the eight-hour work day, because people left the K.O.L. and moved toward the more moderate American Federation of Labor. For many years the police at Haymarket Square were regarded as martyrs and the workers as violent anarchists, a view that has moderated as history has discovered and revealed new information.