May Day Brings Heightened Awareness of Haymarket Memorial

Today is May Day, or International Workers Day, and with that we remember the Haymarket Affair on the evening of May 4 1886. May 1 is the date on the calendar that honors and remembers labor, so thus the Haymarket martyrs, who died in the cause of eventually giving us an eight hour workday, are top of mind.

"The day will come when our silence is more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

Those are the last words of August Spies, and he said them from the gallows right before he was put to death as an anarchist; guilty on the charge of inciting a riot. Spies was one of three to give a speech from the speaker's wagon on that infamous night, when a bomb (some historians believe the first use of dynamite in the United States) was tossed into the crowd, killing 11 (seven police officers and four civilians).

Spies was hung despite the fact that no one ever determined who threw the bomb. Some of the seven who were executed over Haymarket weren't even present at the bombing. Simply put, leading anarchists and labor advocates, with ties to the group that organized the rally, were rounded up, scapegoated and put to death.

The Haymarket riot got more just, methodical and even-handed treatment from the Comedy Central program "Drunk History" than it did from the legal system and the rule of law.

Today hundreds of union members, migrant worker activists and other labor advocacy groups gathered at the Haymarket Monument in the West Loop

The monument, located about halfway between the Clinton station on the Green Line and the Kennedy Expressway, wasn't erected until 2004, or 118 years after the infamous historical event occured.

The city took an entire century, plus six more years, to even designate the bombing and subsequent riot site as a historical landmark. Once again Drunk History handled Haymarket much better (or at least much faster), as they covered it during the series' second ever episode in 2013.

Following a series of speakers, most of which were from labor organizations and community groups, the crowd, including Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker, marched east to the Thompson Center.

The city has handled preserving/managing the memory and meaning of Haymarket about as poorly as you could ever imagine over these many years. The Reader did a half-way decent job of chronicling that.

There is a brewery pub and grill, which commodifies dissent by taking on the Haymarket namesake, very close to the historical site. It’s one of the most prominent businesses near the square, and its many television sets often feature the work of unpaid labor (college sports).

While this establishment is popular year round, the memorial itself is not. That's a shame, because as today's march reminds us, we have light years to go yet in regards to workers rights. Progress was obviously made at Haymarket, but injustice still abounds.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC and Chicago, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.

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