Monthly Archives: August 2015

Making Haymarket

When I was little I heard stories from both sides of Haymarket Riot from my great uncles. One was on my Grandma’s side of the family and the other was from my Grandfather’s side of the family. The great uncle from my grandma’s side talked about his and my grandma’s side of family coming from Germany. My great grandfather was Albert (using pseudonyms) who made a living in Chicago in 1870, having left Germany that year. His two oldest sons were born in Germany. For next twenty years, he had more children. Most didn’t make it to adulthood.

At same time, unions were fighting for right to organize. Knights of Labor became the biggest union. Samuel Gompers was its leader. A lot of union activity was in Chicago. They were pushing for 8 hour day work, with weekend off and no reduce pay ( at the time, they were paid by the day, not by hour and it was averaging $1.50 a day for 16 hours a day and no Saturdays off). Children were working in factories. It was quite like it was portrayed in #The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. There was no pension, no social security, no retirement. Mostly males worked.

Way back in October, 1881, the unions planned to organize nationwide strike for 8 hour day on May 1, 1886. They were successful. My great- grandfather was taking part in it. Businesses used anti-union tactics of using Pinkerton men to bust up unions in violent ways. They went to union halls and union printing shops and trashed everything and stole money. The police, also did that for several days. Businesses would lockout workers, and hire replacements. Half the replacements joined the unions. Businesses also increased racial tensions to divide the workers. August Spies, who came from Germany, owned a printing shop that  printed a paper “Working Times”. It was written in both German and English. He organized the strikes in Chicago.

Meanwhile, there were anarchists like Johann Most who would make homemade bombs from dynamite. He was known as Dynamost to the nation. Unions were known to hire thugs who would attack the replacement workers, who became known as scabs. Businesses also hired thugs to beat up union members. The mainstream media, like New York Times told people how un-American unions were. The unions were called Red Hands, not just they were accused of violence, but also because they were accused of being communists. Tensions on both sides were mounting.

The McCormick workers were on strike for better working conditions. They were locked out. Replacements came in and strikers would throw bricks at them. The police had to escort them from buses to work and back. August Spies organized a meeting on May 3,1886. They sent out pamphlets to meet at Haymarket Square at 7:30 PM. Haymarket Square was a busy commercial section. To the horror of Spies, someone added a sentence of coming armed. He replaced those pamphlets. He saw nonviolence worked better than violence for the cause. There were quite a number of police there and this was where my grandfather’s father’s cousin came in. He was Welsh and been in police force for awhile. He was born in America.His family can trace their family to late 17th century being in America. He had orders to shoot, if a person so much throw a piece of paper down. He was reluctant, but he knew he would be either shot himself by his commanding officer or be fired for insubordination. We shall call him Mike.

Albert was at the Haymarket Square, because he wanted better working conditions. Mike was there, because he been hired to keep “law and order”, in other words, to put down any protests against businesses. The police were on one side of the Square.

The protestors brought in a wagon for the speakers to stand on. There were three main speakers: August Spies, Albert Parsons, and Samuel Fielden. It was all peaceful, even the mayor, Mayor Carter Harrison, came by.3,000 people were there. It was light rain, but it increased as time went on.

At about 10:30, the crowd dwindled and they were ending the rally, when an explosion went off in front of the police as they dispersed the crowd. Who threw the bomb is still hotly debated, today. AQ policeman was immediately killed. The crowd were fired upon. It was debated which side shot first. Still is. But the commander noticed some of the police were shooting at others in friendly fire. It was dark and no one knew who was shooting whom. Some of the police were killed as well as civilians. The main speakers were arrested and hanged after the trial, along with another demonstrator. It took about 5 minutes of riot. Clarence Darrow, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Emma Goldman, and others protested the trial.

For awhile afterwards, May 1 became International Workers’ Day, but William Howard Taft created Labor Day to distract workers in America joining in the Day.

One of Mike’s relatives, John, married Albert’s daughter, about 50 years later. My grandparents. Later, Mike and Albert found out they were at Haymarket and on opposite sides. All was forgiven, though.