Gray Panthers of San Francisco
May 2007 Newsletter

Origins of May Day


In the spring of 1886, 350,000 workers all over the country went on strike for the eight-hour working day. Haymarket Square in Chicago became a symbol for workers internationally. As the Haymarket rally was ending, police advanced toward the speakers’ stage. A bomb (origin unknown to this day) exploded, wounding 66 policemen; seven later died. After the explosion, police shot into the crowd, wounding hundreds and killing several people. Of the eight anarchists arrested following the riot, only one, who was speaking as the bomb exploded, was actually in the square. These men, arrested on conspiracy to incite violence, marked the start of a reign of terror on workers in Chicago. Hundreds were arrested, beaten and interrogated, resulting in false confessions by anyone accused of being “anarchists” or supporters of the labor unions. Across the country, infamous Pinkerton “detectives,” hired by corporate heads, along with police began using brutal force to break up strikes.

All eight men were found guilty; seven were given death sentences and one man, 15 years in prison. All appeals were denied. The Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction in the matter. In November of 1886, Adolph Fischer, Albert Parsons, August Spies, and George Engel were hanged. Louis Lingg, a youth of 21, blew himself up in his cell. A funeral with 25,000 people marched through Chicago. Internationally, supporters rallied to their cause. The remaining three were pardoned after 60,000 petitions were presented to the governor.

A monument erected in 1893 depicts Justice placing a wreath on the head of a fallen worker. Many labor leaders requested to be buried in the area, including Joe Hill, Bill Haywood, Lucy Parsons, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Emma Goldman.

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