Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger (eds), Haymarket Scrapbook.

Author:Mendel, Ron
Position:Book review

Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger (eds), Haymarket Scrapbook

Chares Kerr Publishing Company and AK Press, second edition, 2012, 272pp; ISBN-13: 978-1849350-80-8.

1 May 1886 represented a landmark date in the history of the U.S. labour movement. On that day an estimated 300,000 workers downed their tools in pursuit of an eight hour day, a demand that affirmed their worth beyond their hours of toil. In Chicago subsequent events transformed a wave of militancy into a melodramatic episode whose impact reverberated well into the twentieth century.

In Chicago the eight hour movement was led by anarcho-syndicalists. Through the city's Central Labor Union and its twenty-two affiliates, Albert Parsons, August Spies, Michael Schwab and Samuel Felden, deploying their oratorical and literary skills, agitated for the eight hour day. On 1 and 2 May, 40,000 peacefully participated in demonstrations, but on the following day police fired upon striking workers outside the McCormick Harvester plant. In response a meeting 'to denounce the atrocious act of the police' was called for 4 May. Just as the outdoor rally was ending, someone threw a bomb into the crowd, killing seven policemen and four workers.

The media's reaction was hysterical, as newspapers demanded that ringleaders of the rally and of the eight hour movement be prosecuted. The courts did not disappoint, as after a blatantly unfair trial eight 'conspirators' were convicted of inciting the 'riot' although most of them were not even present at the rally. Four, including Parsons and Spies, were eventually hanged, one committed suicide in jail, and three others were imprisoned and ultimately granted a pardon by the Illinois state Governor, Peter Altgeld.

The Haymarket Scrapbook not only provides a resume about this tragedy, but provides an extensive collection of primary and secondary sources which enable the reader to gain an understanding of the strategic thinking of the major Haymarket protagonists, the concerted defence campaign waged by the 'martyrs' supporters, and the legacy of the events in Chicago for the labour movement in the United States and...

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