The Haymarket Saga of 1886
The Laborers’ Side
The Eight-Hour Workday: The most significant goal of the labor movement at this time was to attain an eight-hour workday. There had been a sudden, surprising surge in enthusiasm and support for this objective starting in March, 1886, and by May, some employers had already conceded this reform. In the case of the Haymarket, the workers were about half German immigrants and half English-speaking.
Anarchists and Socialists
Mayor Carter Harrison.
Mayor Carter Harrison.

Both of these groups supported reforms for labor and the working class. The fundamental difference between anarchists and socialists at this time was that socialists advocated reforming through elected officials sympathetic to their cause, like the current mayor, Carter Harrison.
The anarchists, however, pushed for a complete overturning of the government and the entire societal structure. Most Chicago anarchists identified with the International Working People’s Association. Their Pittsburgh Manifesto of 1883 stated the goals of anarchists:

First:- Destruction of the existing class rule, by all means, i.e., by energetic, relentless, revolutionary, and international action.
Second:- Establishment of a free society based upon co-operative organization of production.
Third:- Free exchange of equivalent products by and between the productive organizations without commerce and profit-mongery.
Fourth:- Organization of education on a secular, scientific, and equal basis for both sexes.
Fifth:- Equal rights for all without distinction to sex or race.
Sixth:- Regulation of all public affairs by free contracts between the autonomous (independent) communes and associations, resting on a federalistic basis.
This clearly shows the goals and motives of the anarchists.
August Spies
Albert Parsons

The anarchists were the ones predominantly behind the events of the Haymarket. Their leaders included: Albert Parsons, a freedman’s advocate from Texas and editor of the Alarm, the English-language anarchists newspaper; August Spies, a German immigrant and editor of Arbeiter-Zeitung, the Alarm’s German equivalent; and Samuel Fielden, an anarchist speaker.

The Business Side

The majority of businesses and upper society in general of course rejected the eight-hour workday reforms. They could not believe the theory that employees who worked eight hours would be more productive, earn more, and then consume more. They also held that a law regulating such a workday limit would extend to far the power of a republican government. They were also afraid of the anarchists and socialists destroying their society, marking the movements as foreign. The frontman of this idea was Inspector Bonfield, the new Chief of Police.


Cyrus McCormick Jr.
For starters, during the Second Industrial Revolution, Chicago had become the­ city for class conflict on labor reforms. This came to a head in 1886 over the 8-hour workday. On May 1, 30-60,000 Chicagoans and 200-350,000 workers nationwide went on a collective strike for this cause. In Chicago, the main issue came at the McCormick Farm Equipment Works where Police and Pinkertons, guards hired especially to combat strikers, shot several men on strike there. The strikers were there to intimidate scab, or lower-paid, replacement workers, and two were killed. The Haymarket Riot was in protest to the violence committed at the McCormick factory.
Another cause of the events of the Haymarket was the increasing use of dynamite and other explosives to promote anarchist causes. Johann Most’s “Revolutionary War Science”, published in 1885, gave specific instructions for the creation and use of bombs in urban violence, and an April, 1885, article of the Alarm called dynamite a “peacemaker”.

The Meeting

German-English poster advertising the meeting
The meeting in the Haymarket was rather poorly organized, as the first speaker, August Spies, started speaking over an hour later than planned, so the crowd of about 3,000 had dwindled significantly, and was trimmed further by the coming inclement weather. Spies was followed by Parsons and Fielden, and all of their speeches were relatively mild according to Mayor Harrison, who was in attendance, and the crowd was rather mild as well.
After the departure of the mayor at about 10, Inspector Bonfield moved in with a force of 175 police. They arrived just as Fielden was finishing his speech, and he agreed to end the meeting. Suddenly, a bomb was thrown, possibly from a building or the crowd, into the ranks of police. Chaos followed.
In the end, seven police and at least four workers died from the bomb or gunfire, and over 100 people were wounded. Half of the police casualties were from friendly fire.

The bomb goes off
The 8 Anarchists
In all, 31 suspects were chosen from over a hundred arrested, and these were narrowed down to eight, “all with foreign-sounding names”, according to a Chicago newspaper, who were put on trial for murder and conspiracy. These were: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Louis Lingg, Adolph Fischer, George Knoll, Oscar Neebe, Samuel Fielden, and Michael Schwab.
They were all convicted and sentenced to death despite the fact the speakers didn’t know about the meeting till the night of, and the others didn’t attend and/or had no connection to the meeting. This was the result of an unfair trial and a stacked jury. Four were hanged quickly, and Lingg committed suicide. The other three were commuted to life sentences by Governor Oglesby and pardoned by Governor Altgeld.
But, in society’s mind, the labor movement became viewed as a breeding ground for terrorists and political dissidents instead of means for bettering the conditions of the working class.


Chicago History Museum | . "Various Pages." The Dramas of Haymarket .

"Digital History." Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 May 2010. <>.
Green, James. Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. New York: Anchor, 2006. Print.

"Haymarket Square riot." American History. ABC-CLIO.

"John Peter Altgeld: Pardon of the Haymarket anarchists (1893)." American History. ABC-CLIO.

"The Pittsburgh Manifesto to the Workingmen of America." Reading, the Pittsburgh Congress of the International Working Peoples’ Association from International Working Peoples’ Association, Pittsburgh, from <>

"Various Pages." The Haymarket Bomb in Historical Context.

PictographyMayor Harrison:
Meeting Poster:
Bomb going off:
8 Anarchists: