The Haymarket Affair
CHICAGO WAS A CITY OF STARK CONTRASTS IN THE SPRING OF 1886. THE CITY had been transformed after the Great Fire into a monument to the new American economy, with high-rise buildings and luxury hotels testifying to the newly created affluence of the leaders of industry. At the same time, the slums and tenements around Chicago were also growing, as a large population of workers—many of them foreign immigrants brought to America as cheap labor—eked out their living away from Chicago's Gold Coast. The palaces which the new industrial rich were building were supported not only by brick and mortar, but also by the press, the police, and the Pinkerton agents who warned of the threat to social order represented by labor's calls for fairer wealth distribution, better working conditions, and shorter hours. In 1877, a series of wildcat strikes had shut down commerce from Pittsburgh through Chicago, and the immigrant newspapers of the laboring classes—most written in a foreign language and several openly proclaiming themselves as socialist and anarchist—were talking of another strike to reduce the working day to eight hours. Although the first of May had come and gone without the feared general strike in favor of the eight-hour day, there were still several strikes throughout the city that kept many Chicagoans on edge. One of the larger strikes was at the McCormick Reaper Plant on Chicago's south side.
The actual events of May 1886 occurred in the context of years of labor unrest and police corruption and brutality. On 3 May 1886, police opened fire and killed several strikers as they shouted at the replacement workers whom McCormick had hired. Without waiting for the details, August Spies, a German immigrant who was active in Chicago's anarchist movement, printed a circular calling for an open-air meeting to discuss this latest use of force by the industrialists of Chicago. Expecting a large turnout, the group planned to meet in Haymarket Square, a large area that could accommodate a crowd; the actual meeting was rather small (under a thousand peo