Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day and the Haymarket Riot (1886)

On May 1, 1886 350,000 working people went on strike from coast to coast demanding an 8 hour workday. This was the beginning of scores of demonstrations around the country; the most notable being the rally held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square on the 4th of May. During that rally a bomb was hurled and killed several police officers. The police then fired into the crowd of demonstrators, killing and wounding over 200.

As a result of the violence on behalf of the labor unions, eight labor union leaders were arrested and tried for the killings; even though only one had actually been present at the rally. They were all charged with murder. Of the eight, 1 received a 15 year sentence; 3 were sentenced to life in prison; and on November 11, 1887 the remaining 4 were hung.

Decades later it was proven that a man named Rudolph Schnaubelt had actually been the bomber, acting alone. His history was somewhat puzzling; he was a known anarchist as well as a police informer. It is widely believed that he was put up to the bombing by the Police, who were trying to discredit the Labor Union movement.

As a child during the late 1950’s (I was in Kindergarten) I was confused by the May Day event that the school had each year. There was a Maypole and children went out at recess to dance around it. This seemed to be a tradition which stretched back to the middle Ages in Europe and heralded the arrival of spring; but coupled with what I was hearing about May 1st being the day the Soviet Union Displayed its’ weaponry in a parade at the Kremlin; which was covered in the news; I wasn’t sure what to think!

So, May Day has quite a cultural, as well as political, path. I prefer the Maypoles to the tanks and missiles.  I was confused as a child; but not too much anymore. At least where Maypoles and missiles are concerned…

Note: Maypoles are not to be confused with Liberty Poles, which where used by the Patriots during our own Revolution to communicate with one another. As soon as the British tore one down, two seemingly sprung up in it's place. These poles were in use all year long, not just on May 1st.

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