May 4, 1886. In response to the Chicago Police Department’s killing of four workers during a strike at the McCormick Harvesters Works on May 3, labor leaders organized a meeting at Haymarket Square for the following night. About three thousand persons assembled, later dwindling to a few hundred. A detachment of 180 policemen showed up. The speaker said the meeting was almost over. Then a bomb exploded in the midst of the police, wounding sixty-six, of whom seven later died (one died from the bomb blast, six others died from gunshot wounds from their fellow officers). The police fired into the crowd, killing several people, wounding two hundred.
Eight anarchists were arrested and put on trial. Facing an openly biased judge in Joseph Gary and a clearly hostile jury, the Haymarket Affair is one of the most infamously unjust trials in American history. The prosecution focused on the men’s anarchist ties rather than determining whether the accused had any real connection with the crime. Essentially, eight men (seven of whom were not even present at the time the bomb was thrown) were tried and convicted because of their political beliefs. August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer were hanged. Louis Lingg killed himself before the state could. Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, and Oscar Neebe were sentenced to prison (eventually being granted clemency in 1892).
The Haymarket Riot was an important event for the labor movement. The year 1886 became known as “the year of the great uprising of labor.” From 1881 to 1885, strikes had averaged about five hundred each year, involving perhaps one hundred and fifty thousand workers each year. In 1886 there were over one thousand four hundred strikes, involving five hundred thousand workers.
“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”—August Spies
Printed at the worker-owned Stumptown Printers, Portland, OR.
A postcard version of poster #18 in the Celebrate People’s History Series.