Sunday, May 1, 2011

125th Anniversary of the Haymarket Affair

Aside from being the Society of American Archivist's MayDay: Saving Our Archives, May 1st is also International Workers' Day, and this year it commemorates the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago. The eight-hour workday was a central demand of the Chicago labor movement in the 1860s, and a week-long, city-wide strike began on May 1, 1867. The strike collapsed, but the issue remained, with the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1884 calling for workers to take direct action and begin observing the eight-hour day on May 1, 1886.

Numerous meetings, parades, and gatherings took place leading up to a strike on May 1, 1886. On May 3, two strikers were killed by police, which led to a protest meeting being called by anarchists at West Randolph Street Haymarket. The following day more violence ensued, when police moved to disperse another meeting and a bomb exploded. Many of the these events have been documented in the Haymarket Affair Digital Collection created by the Chicago History Museum. In addition to contextual essays, the collection provides access to trial documents, published materials, manuscripts, artifacts, broadsides, photographs and prints, and wood engravings depicting the events of Haymarket as recorded in the press.

The labor movement has long been fraught with controversy, and the eight-hour workday was not achieved until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was passed as part of the New Deal. The image above (Wikimedia Commons) depicts the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. Erected in 1887 in Forest Park, Illinois, the inscription reads: "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

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