Essay Example on History of Labor Unions: The Haymarket Riot and Its Impact

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1882 Words
Date:  2022-12-27


The Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Affair which occurred in Chicago remains one of the most significant tragic occurrences in the history of labor unionism and activism on the United States of America. The Riot followed a long period of labor unionism beginning in the 1870s which was a movement aimed at attaining the best representation of the affairs of workers (Rulli, 2016). This clamor for proper representation and collective bargaining had culminated into the formation of influential organizations such as Knights of Labour which had a membership of more than seven hundred thousand workers. In the 1880s, industrial workers experienced poor working conditions characterized by disregard of their safety in factories, indecent remuneration, lack of any fringe benefits and long working hours (Brexel, 2004). Through the unions, the workers attained a sense of autonomy and ability to agitate for their rights within the working environments. The Haymarket Riot is a typical manifestation of a clash between the law enforcement agency which resulted in deaths and a debate on whether such a crackdown on peaceful rioters by the police was just. The rise of the labor union, protest against police brutality, bombing at Haymarket, the accusation of labor Unionists and Anarchists for the bombing, arraignment, and execution of the anarchists, review of Haymarket case and a critical setback for labor in America defined the Haymarket Riot

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Chronology of immediate events leading to the Haymarket Riot

Laborers working for the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. in Chicago started a strike in May 1886 agitating against long working hours. In the strike, the workers intended to be allowed shorter working hours daily (Brexel, 2004). During this time, police officers were deployed to protect the strike brokers from aggression by the workers leading to a break out of a scuffle which caused the death of one individual and a series of injuries. Keeping with the tempo of agitation and convicted by the desire to attain proper reforms in the labor industry, terms and conditions, the anarchists organized a mega rally on May 4th, 1886 to protest the police brutality witnessed a day earlier. The protest which brought more than twenty thousand demonstrates together was slated to happen at the Haymarket Square. The Square had some significance among the workers since the farmers traditionally used it as a market for their farm produce (Brexel, 2004). Due to bad weather, the population of protesters reduced until around only two thousand participants remained in active protest. The procession of protesters remained composed and peaceful throughout until a police official deployed officers to disperse the crowd. This order which turned tragic was in sheer violation of the instructions earlier issued by the mayor who did not want the police to interfere with the peaceful protest. The moment the police officers tried to use force to disperse the protesters, a pipe bomb was hurled at the police officers causing the death of seven of them (Green 2007). Several others sustained injuries. As a reaction to a perceived provocation, the police became more aggressive and brutal, fired at the crowd of protesting workers. Four protesters were killed on the spot. This is what was christened the Haymarket Riot.

After this tragic incident that leads to loss of lives, a period of anxiety, panic and overreaction dominated Chicago. Hundreds of workers were arrested, detained, and brutalized during police interrogation. Some of the detainees were forced to give false confessions. At the end of these controversies, eight anarchists were tried and seven convicted for conspiring to commit murder. In November 1887, four of the convicted anarchists were hanged while one committed suicide while in custody. However, the then incumbent governor for Illinois, John Peter pardoned three of the incarcerated alleged conspirators (Lum & Spies, 2005). This entire event has brought to question if the due process and justice were served on the protesters and the arrested individuals. It is true that socialists and anarchists were predominant in the Knights of Labour and other such labor unions. They remained committed to altering the capitalist system which had disenfranchised the low-level people such laborers and retained a small percentage in control of virtually all means of production (Lum & Spies, 2005). Nonetheless, the arrest, conviction, and execution of the people arrested at that time did not adhere to due criminal justice procedures hence an affront on their rights. As a matter of justice and criminal proceedings, evidence of a conspiracy to kill must be adduced beyond a reasonable doubt before an individual's guilt is proven. It was in the hands of the police to adduce proper incriminating evidence against the few arrested people, and the jury was to interrogate their integrity before making a final judgment. This was not the case in the Haymarket Riot case. First, the officers acted in contravention of the orders by the mayor who had instructed them not to disrupt the protest. Second, the demonstrations were peaceful until the police officers who were deployed in defiance of the stance taken by the mayor intervened (Lum & Spies, 2005). Third, to date, no evidence, weighty enough to warrant such a hefty sentence as death has been provided or discovered that implicate the Haymarket Rioters for any wrongdoing. Nothing whatsoever linked the eight incarcerated anarchists and socialists to the bomb thrown at the police; hence it beats logic that the charges had been trumped up and used to suppress labor unionism (Green 2007). The period of the Haymarket Riot was characterized by a fear of labor unions and other radical forces which made the public to support the harsh treatment of the people accused of perpetrating the deadly Haymarket Riot.

Significant Events Surrounding the Haymarket Riot

Organization of labor unions

The rise in the American labor unionism was a first step that culminated into the Haymarket Riot. Before the deadly riot, the workers in the United States of America had begun organizing themselves into independent unions. This proceeded so fast after the Civil War and by the 188os, so many such organizations had been established with the primary objective of airing the grievances of the workers (Brexel, 2004). On notable union were the Knights of labor which brought together several works from different quarters including agricultural workers and industrial laborers. The immediate first event which ushered in the Haymarket Riot was the strike by workers who worked at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. This factory which specialized in the manufacture of farm equipment subjected workers to harsh working conditions. However, the subject of their strike was to have their workday hours shortened to eight hours form the normal 60-hours which was the usual trend (Brexel, 2004). As a response to the agitation, the company fired the dissatisfied workers and in their place hired strike-breakers. This was a common practice by employers to suppress dissenting labor voices. The strike held on 1st May led to a confrontation with the police officers who had been hired to protect the striker brokers leading o death of one person outside the company premises.

Protest against police brutality

Following the police officers brutality witnessed during the strike organized against McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, a follow-up mass meeting and protest were organized. On 14th May a meeting was held at Haymarket Square in Chicago. This place was an open place designated for public markets (Rulli, 2016). Radical and anarchists were at the center of the organization of the meeting. They addressed more than one thousand five hundred protesters who had endured the lousy weather to voice out their concerns. The rally remained peaceful until the police intervened to disperse the crowd. The mood immediately turned confrontational, uneasy, messy and with several casualties (Rulli, 2016).

Bombing at the Haymarket

As the police officers deployed to dissolve the striking workers engaged them in a confrontation, a powerful bomb was hurled towards them. The pipe bomb was hurled at a high trajectory above the striking crowd moved directly to the armed police officers. The bomb then landed at the battalion of police officers, exploded to release shrapnel killing seven of the officers and injuring many (Green 2007). Out of what can be construed as anger about the thrown bomb, the police opened fire at the crowd resulting in chaos and confusion. In the milieu, four civilians were killed, over one hundred injured and some other police also died. It is uncertain whether the police officers who were reported as dead succumbed to the bullets from colleagues or the bomb. This remains unanswered due to the controversial nature of the encounter between the police and the civilian workers.

Accusations for the Haymarket Riot directed at the Unionists and Anarchists

After the Haymarket Riot incident, there was public concern about the nature of reaction by the police officers as well as the motives of the labor unions. The press played a critical role in creating some form of public hysteria and a need to resolve the very many outstanding issues about the unusual occurrence. For instance, in a seemingly framed messaging to castigate the unionists, the media illustrated how the bomb thrown by the anarchists cut down the police. Subsequently, the blame for the Haymarket Riot was passed on the labor movement. The Knights of Labour which was the main face of the labor union in the United States at the time had to bear the brunt of accusations (Brexel, 2004). It remains unclear whether the prosecution and discredit of the labor union were fair or not but historical records point to the direction that they were framed so that their strength could be taken away. Sure to this, Knights of Labour never recovered from the effects of this incident. It was at the verge of a complete collapse. The media which seemed censured to drive the agenda of discrediting the anarchists and labor unions, in general, carried the message to attain public buy-in. Some audacious press called for the hanging of people found guilty for instigating and executing the Haymarket Riot. Everything was set in a way to absolve the police of any wrongdoing. Eventually, eight of the people who were perceived as being responsible for the riot were arrested and prosecuted

The trial and executions of the accused Anarchists

The public outcry and media campaign which discredited the labor unions as well as anarchists led to an eventual trial. The trial of the anarchists was a spectacle and took a better part of the summer of 1886. At the hearing, there are loose ends on fairness in jurisprudence against the accused (Messer-Kruse, 2011). For instance, the evidence presented before the presiding jury perceivably failed to meet the test of reliability, dependability, and proof beyond reasonable doubt as would be required of such high profile charges. The evidence presented to the court also lacked forensic analysis on the bomb building. Theorem, the court proceeded to pass judgments against the accused without a adequately documented ballistic report and forensic evidence on who among the eight accused persons built the bomb or hurled it. Furthermore, none of the eight accused was convicted of inciting the riot (Messer-Kruse, 2011). Despite the frivolous nature of the evidence, seven of the arrested people were sentenced to death. One of the convicted men committed suicide while in detention, four of them were hanged, and two of them were subjected to life imprisonment in Illinois.

Review of the Haymarket case

The governor of Illinois, Peter Altgeld, who had pled...

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