working class

"It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out."

May Day turns 125 years old this year. Elizabeth Schulte tells the story of the fight for the eight-hour day--and of the Haymarket Martyrs who gave their lives for it.

The Haymarket Martyrs

ON MAY 1, 1886--125 years ago this month--hundreds of thousands of workers were taking the streets of cities around the U.S. to demand an eight-hour day.

The epicenter of this great labor struggle was Chicago, where the eight-hour movement inspired defiant protests and strikes--and inspired fear and repression from bosses and their loyal servants in law enforcement.

Two days after the massive May 1 actions, Chicago police fired on a protest of workers at a South Side factory, killing four people. A protest demonstration was called the next day for Haymarket, just west of downtown. The rally was peaceful, but as it was nearing a close, police waded into the crowd. At this point, a bomb was thrown into the ranks of police--and this became the excuse for a deadly rampage by the authorities.

Eight working-class radicals were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit the bombing--even though most weren't even at Haymarket when the explosion occurred.

The eight radicals were prosecuted--but it was the entire eight-hour movement that was put on trial.

The robber barons wanted to destroy the workers' movement. And they had good reason. The struggle of workers--and their demand for the eight-hour day--threatened the very foundations of the employers' profits.