An important anniversary in law and labor history is coming up! On May 4, 1886, workers gathered at the intersection of Desplaines and Randolph streets (a nine-minute walk from the present location of Chicago-Kent), known as Haymarket Square.
It was the fourth day of strikes in favor of an eight-hour workday. The police arrived at Haymarket late in the evening, when the demonstrators were already heading home on account of the rainy weather. A bomb was thrown at the ranks of police, killing an officer and touching off a panic that left another six officers and at least four workers dead. The state of Illinois put eight anarchists – mostly German immigrants – on trial for conspiracy.
Professor César Rosado Marzán, co-director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at Chicago-Kent, says: “The trial wouldn’t meet most people’s definition of ‘fair’: suspicion of immigrants and working-class people was widespread, and both the judge and press were fervently pro-prosecution.”
(Note: The contemporary print reproduced above, with its heroic depiction of the police captain, was typical.)
The eight defendants were convicted; four were hanged, one (also sentenced to death) committed suicide in prison, and three served prison terms. What they were fighting for – the eight-hour workday – became a reality for many, and May 1 is now International Workers Day.