It is the end of the Labor Day weekend here in America, and many people (including myself) had the day off today. Unfortunately, like many 3-day weekend holidays – the origin and significance of the holiday itself has been lost. These days, it’s all about football, hot dogs, and getting away. That’s fine, all well and good. But I believe it is important to remember what price was paid so that we could have this holiday.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Haymarket Riot. May, 1886, Chicago. Workers marched in protest, advocating for an eight-hour workday. In the events that followed over the next few days, 2 workers were killed, seven policeman died, and seven labor leaders were sentenced to death, though only four were executed.
Haymarket is a complex story, and one that I am still struggling to grasp and understand, myself. But what is important to me to remember this Labor Day weekend is that people died so that I could have the things I take for granted today. I count all of the people who died in the Haymarket events to have paid the price for benefits that I enjoy today – so many of which I take for granted. Like the eight-hour workday. And a holiday off.
The battle for the eight-hour day did not end at Haymarket, and in fact, was entirely derailed because of the violence and controversy surrounding those events. It wouldn’t be until after World War II that the eight-hour day became law.
The Dramas of Haymarket from Chicago Historical Society – lengthy and detailed essays about the history and significance and lasting impact of Haymarket, and links to digitized materials.
Super short summary and links from Kent State.
Episode on the PBS program, History Detectives about Haymarket.
History of Labor Day from U.S. Dept. of Labor
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