As we get closer to the fervor of May Day, 2017, let’s pause for a moment of historical reflection. ” No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair also known as the Haymarket Strike. It began with a rally on May 1, 1886, but the consequences are still being felt today,” wrote William Adelman for the Illinois Labor History Society.
In 1884, two years before the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions began the nationwide movement to make enforcement of an eight-hour workday, organizers were preparing for demonstrations.
Lucy Parsons and her husband, Albert Parsons, were two of the prominent organizers. Lucy was born a slave in Texas. Her heritage was a mixture of African-American, Native American, and Mexican descent. She worked for the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War, prior to moving to Chicago after she married Albert. Once there she focused on writing and organizing women sewing workers.
She and others organized rallies and staged a peaceful march of 35,000 workers on May 2nd. The next day the march and protests turned violent when policemen attacked the remaining 200 people. Lucy Parsons had just left the protest march when someone threw a bomb into the crowd, killing one officer. During the mayhem, six more police were killed, along with four other striking workers.
Rain fell that day during the Haymarket Massacre.
Even if it rains on May Day, 2017, let’s remember that a woman, a former slave, led a major labor movement leading to better conditions for all workers.
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