Saturday, April 30, 2011

Remember Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs

I took this photo 25 years ago in Managua, Nicaragua, at the 1986 May Day rally organized by Nicaragua's left parties separate from the much larger rally organized by the ruling Sandinista Front, the FSLN. This banner from the opposition Communist Party of Nicaragua reads "...Saluda a los Trabajadores Nicaraguenses este Primero de Mayo, Centenario de los Martires de Chicago." meaning "Salute to the Nicaraguan Workers This May First, Centenary of the Chicago Martyrs."

Exactly 125 years ago in 1886, anarchists organized a rally in solidarity with striking workers at Chicago's Haymarket Square. A pipe bomb was thrown at police, killing one. Chaos ensued, with cops shooting their weapons wildly. Although the anarchists had nothing to do with the pipe bomb — historians believe it was thrown by a provocateur — they were rounded up and arrested. Eight were tried, one died in prison, and four of them were executed. The persecution and murder of the anarchist martyrs was a blatant act of political repression even though none of the arrested men were proven to have anything to do with the bomb. The workers were on strike for the eight-hour day: all of us around the world today who benefit from that standard of fairness owe a debt to those activists of 125 years ago. How cool that people in Nicaragua remembered those long ago heroes when today I imagine precious few in Chicago itself nod in their memory.

(In the very early 1980s before I left Chicago for New York, the socialist group I worked with, the Revolutionary Socialist League, had its offices in what they called Haymarket Hall or Haymarket Books, an old loft building south of Downtown off Haymarket Square that was reputed to have been the former headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World. It was a beautiful old cast-iron building where public forums were sometimes held; freezing cold in winter thanks to its virtually prehistoric heating system. The RSL being long gone I'm imagining it's now someone's fabulously renovated yuppie loft.)


  1. More recent than 125 years ago though, I can recommend the movie Made in Dagenham about the 1968 Ford plant and protest for equal rights by the women. Their action turned out to have worldwide impact on how Ford Motor Company would operate.

    Made in Dagenham: Sally Hawkins stars in this cheeky dramatization of the landmark 1968 labor strike initiated by hundreds of women who rebelled against discrimination and demanded the same pay as men for their work in a London automobile manufacturing plant.

    Nigel Cole directs this film that co-stars Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins.

  2. My grandfather arrived in New York City in 1901 on the Saxonia. I've seen his boarding papers, and there was a box to check "Are you an anarchist?"
    He didn't check it.
    When you've escaped the Cossacks and conscription into the Russian army, you don't tell any government to pay extra attention to you...

  3. @ Annie, I don't know that film. I'll look for it.

    @ swboy, yes, that was a trick question. And we're glad you got to be born on this side of the Atlantic! Was your grandfather Russian, Russian Jewish, Volga German or what?