9/2/13 - Same as it ever was. While Americans are out chasing their freedoms the last day of this holiday weekend few know this story and few would probably care. And tomorrow when the freedom chase is over and they return to work each year getting less and less as the 1%continues to take more of the less that they have most have nary a clue.
9/3/12 - Attacks on unions and labor continue and with success. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre.
They were fighting for the eight hour work day in 1896. Killing these
men and others worked as it took 51 more years before that happened. Few
in this country have a clue about this and many other things as well.
Another year has flown by and this country continues to welcome
misinformation and lies about unions and socialism and other things that
originate from huge corporations including media. The mood of this
country has many of the same traits as it had at the time of these
murders at the hands of the powers that were in Chicago at that time.
The same post from last year in it's entirety (and the year before
that). A piece that tells a very important story and why I get the day
off to go explore because men like these died so I could do just that.
In this country there are not many who know why we celebrate this
holiday but the story told below explains and we should all take pause
now and then and remember those who came before us whether it's this or
any number of other stories of people who sacrificed so our country
could be a better place to live in.
Remembering the Haymarket Martyrs
By Charles SullivanInformation Clearing House' -- --
Every now and then events transpire that cut through the rhetoric, the
carefully contrived images purveyed in the press and historical texts,
and reveal a nation’s dark soul in ghastly detail. Such an event
occurred in the streets of Chicago on May 4, 1886, and continued
through November 11 of 1887. They were set in motion years before.
At noon on that day four of labor’s most courageous warriors: Albert
Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel were hanged for
a crime they did not commit. A fifth man, Louis Lingg, was slated to
share the fate of his comrades but he cheated the hangman and the state
of his innocent blood when he exploded a dynamite cap in his mouth
from his jail cell just hours before the execution. The explosive had
been smuggled in to him by an anarchist comrade. Another anarchist,
Oscar Neebe, has sentenced to fifteen years of prison and hard labor.
Three others had their death sentences commuted to life sentences.
In the U.S. only a relative few working class people know that Labor
Day, originally May Day (May 1) originated with the hanging of these
men. The rest of the world celebrates their heroism on May 1; however,
the U.S. does not officially recognize their sacrifice by honoring them
with a national holiday. Virtually every worker worldwide owes a
tremendous debt to the Haymarket Martyrs, who provided the impetus and
paid the ultimate price for many of the benefits that all workers,
including the rank and file and upper management, now enjoy.
Those were tumultuous times not only in Chicago but all across America,
when revolution was in the air and nationwide strikes crippled the
burgeoning economy. In Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike
protesting not only reductions in wages but also demonstrating for the
eight hour work day—one of the central organizing principles of the
anarchist’s political philosophy. The Chicago anarchist movement that
took root in 1884 was both strong and effective. Its leaders were
skilled organizers and eloquent orators.
The Chicago police of the day were corrupt and routinely moved on the
strikers at the behest of the business community, prodded by the daily
newspapers. In those days companies had their own militias which were
used to put down worker insurrections with coercion and violence. They
also hired Pinkertons to intimidate and kill workers in order to
prevent strikes and to maximize profits. But when the strikers began
organizing militias for their own protection the state legislature
outlawed them. The business militias, however, were allowed to continue
their grim work, leaving the workers without protection and
vulnerable. Strikers were routinely beaten, imprisoned and killed by
their employers and the police.
On May 4, 1886, several unarmed strikers were shot dead by the Chicago
police and hundreds were brutally beaten, including innocent
bystanders at the McCormick Reapers Works. August Spies witnessed the
affair with horror and righteous indignation. His comrades were being
murdered in the streets and the killers did so with impunity. It seemed
that all the forces of Chicago were arrayed against the working
An outraged August Spies organized a peaceful rally the following
evening at the Haymarket Square. After beginning in clear moonlight,
the weather suddenly turned cool and threatened rain, after a crowd of
3,000 gathered to hear the orators in the gathering gloom of the
chilled night air. Standing upon a hay wagon near a lone street lamp
the speakers berated the Chicago police for their indiscriminate
killing of unarmed workers. Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, a just and
honest man, was in attendance. Satisfied that the gathering was
peaceful and nearing conclusion, Mayor Harrison informed the chief of
police, John Bonfield, who had sanctioned the shootings and mass
beatings of the previous day, not to march on the group or disrupt
It was getting late and the cold was penetrating when Albert Parsons
and most of the speakers left the rally to warm themselves at Zephf’s
Hall. Acting without legal authority, John Bonfield gathered a troop of
180 armed policemen and ordered them to disperse the dwindling crowd.
After a mild verbal confrontation, Samuel Fieldon, who was speaking to
the crowd when the police arrived, agreed to peacefully disperse. As
Fieldon leaped down from the hay wagon, an unknown assailant hurled a
stick of sizzling dynamite into the crowd of policemen. One officer was
killed and six others died in the ensuing mayhem as the result of the
panic stricken police firing indiscriminately into the fleeing crowd.
A reign of terror soon swept over Chicago in the aftermath of the
Haymarket bombing. The press and the city’s business men, always
hostile to the strikers, blamed the anarchists and the socialists and
cried for their blood. The principal anarchists were quickly rounded up
and put into jail, except for Parsons who, though far from the site of
the incident, knew that Chicago’s business men demanded his head and
Demonized in the press and the business community, the anarchists were
immediately tried, convicted and executed in the Chicago Tribune and
other daily newspapers even before any evidence was gathered. The judge
presiding over the trial did nothing to conceal his prejudice and
hostility toward the accused. Twelve impartial jurors could not be
found, so those who openly proclaimed the guilt of the accused were
paid to judge the case. During the early stages of the trial Albert
Parsons dramatically walked into the courtroom and took his place at
the side of his comrades to face his fate with them.
With the impossibility of a fair trial, and the irrational fear that
Chicago’s ruling elite felt toward immigrant social agitators, the men
were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Predictably, the
trial was a farce, a media circus and a travesty of justice. The jury
consisted of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the
dead policemen. Not a single working man or woman was selected for the
No evidence was produced to link any of the accused with the bombing
during the trial. None of them were at or near the scene of the crime.
No evidence was brought forth to demonstrate that the anarchists had
conspired to incite violence that evening. But they were anarchists and
socialists, a threat to capital, and they were bound to hang for their
State attorney Julius Grinnell openly declared that anarchism was on
trial. By hanging the anarchists, Grinnell reasoned, the sacred
institutions of society would be saved. In essence, free speech and the
right of peaceful assembly were also on trial. Laws to protect the
rights of suspects were suspended and new precedents established to
hasten their conviction. The real agenda of Chicago’s business
community, however, was to put an end to the successful drive for the
eight hour work day and to permanently demonize organized labor. It
would require another fifty-one years for the eight hour work day to
become law as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Just a few hours prior to the execution Albert Parsons wrote a friend
that “The guard has just awakened me. I have washed my face and drank a
cup of coffee. The doctor asked me if I wanted stimulants. I said no.
The dear boys, Engel, Fischer and Spies, saluted me with firm voices.
Well, my dear old comrade, the hour draws near. Caesar kept me awake
last night with the noise, the music of the hammer and saw erecting his
throne—my scaffold.” Parsons remained awake most of the night singing
one of his favorite songs, “Annie Laurie” in a soft, melancholy voice
filled with emotion.
More than 200 reporters gathered to witness the execution, as did the
citizenry. None of the friends or relatives of the anarchists were
permitted to attend. Albert Parson’s wife, Lucy, and their children
were not permitted to bid their beloved husband and father a final
farewell. Lucy Parsons was arrested in the attempt and taken to jail in
another part of the city.
A few minutes before noon the four men were paraded onto the gallows
scaffold. A reporter described the scene, “With a steady, unfaltering
step a white robed figure stepped out…and stood upon the drop. It was
August Spies. It was evident that his hands were firmly bound behind
him beneath his snowy shroud.” Another reporter wrote, “His face was
very pale, his looks solemn, his expression melancholy, yet at the same
time dignified.” Fischer, Engel and Parsons followed in orderly
procession. Another reporter noted that Parsons “Turned his big gray
eyes upon the crowd below with such a look of awful reproach and
sadness as it would not fail to strike the innermost chord of the
hardest-heart there. It was a look never to be forgotten.”
The nooses were placed around the men’s necks and muslin shrouds placed
over their heads. The executioner took up the axe that would in a
moment cut the rope and spring the trap doors upon which the four men
stood, sending them into ancestry. There was apprehension in the air
thick as soup. Four innocent men were about to be executed by the
state. Just then a “mournful solemn voice sounded.” It was August Spies
speaking his final words, “The time will come when our silence will be
more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” Next, George Engel
shouted in his native German tongue, “Hurrah for anarchy!” Adolph
Fischer chimed, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Just as Albert
Parsons began to utter his final words that began, “Harken to the voice
of the people,” the executioner’s axe fell. The trap doors sprung open
with a bang and the four men jerked violently on the end of their
ropes and then dangled in the air.
None of them died quickly of broken necks, as was supposed to happen;
they violently twisted and strangled to death over a period of several
minutes, some of them kicking and writhing in agony. The captains of
industry celebrated the death of the anarchists while the workers
mourned for their fallen comrades. But the dream of the eight hour work
day, while strangled, did not die with the Chicago anarchists. It
lived on in the lives of Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Mother Jones and
Big Bill Haywood, who were inspired by the Haymarket Martyrs and went
on to organize.
Some 600,000 workers turned out for the anarchist’s funeral. Lucy
Parsons was inconsolable in her grief and spent the remainder of her
life continuing the work that she and Albert had begun years before in
Texas and later Chicago. This was the event that precipitated the eight
hour work day, the internationally celebrated May Day, and Labor Day
in the U.S. It is tragic that so few working class people are aware of
the tremendous price that the Haymarket Martyrs paid for the freedoms
that so many of us take for granted today.
On June 26, 1893, newly elected Illinois Governor John Altgeld set the
remaining anarchists free and cleared the names of the hanged. Altgeld,
a fair minded man, after examining transcripts of the trial and reams
of related documents declared that all of the anarchists were innocent
of the crimes for which they were convicted. Altgeld concluded that the
hanged men had been victims of “hysteria, packed juries and a biased
judge.” Later, evidence came to light that the dynamite may have been
thrown by a police agent working for police captain Bonfield, as part
of a conspiracy hatched by local business men to discredit the entire
The state sponsored murder of the Haymarket anarchists, while
particularly poignant, is by no means an isolated incident in American
labor history. In the spring of 1886 America was on the verge of
becoming something other than what she was. A new dawn in which working
class people were on a par with business elites was almost within
grasp and the eight hour work day virtually assured. Had justice
prevailed that year in a hot Chicago courtroom and the normal
procedures of the law followed, America would have been a very
different place; a more just and peaceful future than the one we have
now would have been possible and likely.
The entire Haymarket affair betrays the violent nature of capital and
reveals its modus operandi. Aside from all the rhetoric about free
speech and democracy, it exposes who runs the country, who makes the
laws and who enforces them. It is capital, not we the people that are
running things. Time and again the ugly side of America has been
revealed when the status quo was threatened with real democracy. And it
will happen again until the class struggle is finally resolved with
just outcomes. The judgment of History has exonerated the fallen
victims of predatory capital and indicted the real perpetrators of
crimes against humanity, but who go unrepentant and unpunished.
Until millions of ordinary working class people awaken to the kind of
country America really is, the death of Albert Parsons, August Spies,
Adolph Fischer and George Engel will have been in vain. Workers the
world over owes a great debt to these courageous men, whose lives,
strangely, are celebrated abroad but scarcely known here. Unless we
remember these men and honor what they did for us their sacrifice will
have been in vain. We owe them nothing less and much more.
Author’s note: I urge those who wish to know more about these events to
read labor historian James Green’s recently published book “Death in the Haymarkett: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America.”
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance
writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina. He welcomes your
comments at email@example.com