Chicago, Illinois – May 4, 1886
In 1886 the average workweek in Chicago was sixty hours in six days for $1.50 per day. A general strike was called to begin on May 1 of that year by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions to push for an eight hour day.
On May 3, strikers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant were confronted by police who fired into the crowd, killing four. To protest the killings, a rally was called for the next evening at Haymarket Square, north of downtown. Less than three thousand people showed up and heard speakers give updates on the status of the eight hour movement. As the last speaker was finishing up, a line of police moved towards the speakers’ platform to demand the rally disperse. As they moved forward, a bomb was thrown at the police, killing eleven police and civilians and injuring almost one hundred twenty.
Not having a clear suspect, the Chicago police arrested those who spoke at the meeting and others who held unpopular political viewpoints, in spite of the fact that none of these people could be tied to the bombing. In the end, five people were convicted and sentenced to death, even though there was no evidence of their involvement in the bombing.
The trial and proceedings have been historically considered a travesty of justice, so much so that in 1893 the governor of Illinois pardoned the surviving defendants, calling them victims of “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. In 1890, May 1 was established as May Day to honor the victims of the tragedy.