The History Outside Your Office Window
Today (May 4, 2011) marks the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot. This was one of the key events that changed the course of labor relations in the United States, and much of the rest of the world, and it happened just barely outside downtown Chicago.
Over the weekend there was a rally and re-enactment at the site where the riot happened. In school we learned of it as the “Haymarket Riot,” though sometimes it was called the Haymarket Massacre. These days a lot of people use the more politically correct term “Haymarket Affair,” which helps mask the fact that eight Chicago police officers died in the line of duty, and an unknown number of civilians were also killed.
Regardless of what you think of the state of labor relations in America, this was an important historic event. A monument by Mary Brogger now stands near the corner of North Des Plaines Street and West Couch Place, next to the cobblestone alley (which still exists) where this happened.
Sadly, much of the history of what happened here has been lost in rhetoric. Last Saturday’s event (April 30, 2011) was largely co-opted by labor unions, small time politicians, and local anarchist organizations (oxymoron much?) pushing their various agendas. Some people incorrectly identified those killed in the bombing as being labor leaders, when they were actually police officers targeted by a bomb. Some speakers tried to convince the crowd that the only route to equality is through violence. One repeatedly asked everyone to remember those recently killed by “the hurricane” in the South (it was actually a series of tornadoes), since the storm only destroyed the homes of poor workers because rich people live on islands in the Caribbean.
The highlight of the event was when dozens of volunteers dressed as old timey Chicago police officers marched into the crowd and flailed around in a scene reminiscent of the “Whacking Day” sketch from The Simpsons. And yes, there’s even a fake bombing.
If you’d like to become far better educated on what happened that day, there are dozens of quality books about it. Or if you’re pressed for time, check out the Wikimopedia article, which sticks to the facts.