Sunday, August 31, 2008
The Haymarket massacre or why we don't work like slaves
You ever wonder why we work a 40 hour week and get weekends off? Well you can thank your local laborers union for that one. Back in 1886 the workers in Chicago were trying to get the work day shortened from 12 hours to 8. Imagine your work day being 13 or 14 hours long. They had a commute back then either on foot or street car as best as I can figure. The average wage back then was between $1 and $2.25 per day. In Chicago companies hired their own armed guards to intimidate and harass workers. A strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. now called International Harvester had a force of 400 police (hired Pinkerton men by some accounts) to protect strike breakers. The workers had gone on strike because McCormick lowered wages to $9 a week. The strike had started in Feb 1886 and gained momentum with a nation wide union push for an 8 hour work day. Strikers outside the plant had gathered to hear speeches by August Spies who encouraged the strikers to remain united but be nonviolent. When the whistle blew at the end of the work day the strikers stormed the gates. Police shot and killed six people some strikers and a few innocent bystanders. The labor organizers called for a rally on May 4 in Haymarket square. The gathering took place with a large gathering of police. All was so peaceful that the mayor had stopped by to listen and walked home as the last speaker was speaking. As the crowd was starting to break up a group of police started to disperse the crowd. Someone threw a bomb into the police line and mayhem insued. In the end six policemen were killed and it's witnesses stated later that many of the police were killed by friendly fire. Eight of the strikers and leaders were brought to trial. Seven were sentenced to death one was given a 15year sentence. After extensive appeals two had their sentences commuted one comitted suicide in prison by setting off a dynamite cap in his mouth that had been smuggled in. Four were hanged but they did not die immidiately. After all was said and done the governor of the state in 1893 found all the men innocent. The greatest travesty of justice in American history that has been long forgotten and never taught in schools. Ask your kids even your grown kids if they know anything about this.