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Reenacting Haymarket

Anybody who gets time-and-a-half for overtime and weekends off should know and appreciate the Haymarket Affair of 1886, one of the seminal events in labor history.

In 1886, many workers toiled fourteen hours a day, six days a week, points out Paul Durica of Pocket Guide to Hell.  Eight radical labor leaders convicted of conspiracy following Haymarket – four of them hung for it — were leaders of the movement for an eight-hour day.

It’s especially relevant with the labor movement once again under the gun, he argues.  “Given what’s going on today in our country, we need to remember this part of our history as much as something like the Civil War,” he said.

As part of an ongoing series of events marking the 125th anniversary of Haymarket this weekend (including a major labor gathering on May Day), on Saturday Pocket Guide is staging a fullscale reenactment of the events of May 4, 1886.

There will be actors portraying anarchist labor leaders who spoke at the rally in Haymarket Square, protesting the police killing of striking workers at McCormick Harvester Works the day before.  Others will portray police officials and Mayor Carter Harrison – and a bomb thrower, whose identity is not known to this day.

Volunteers from labor, arts and social justice groups will portray the police, who charged the peaceful assembly as it was dispersing and became the target of the bombthrower.  And everyone who shows up for the show will have a role as the workers and spectators who attended the rally. (Period dress is encouraged.)

Historian Tim Samuelson and actor Alma Washington, who has been portraying Haymarket figure Lucy Parsons for years, will be among those setting the scene – the context of desperate poverty, a militant labor movement, and violent police repression; and the response including an international solidarity movement and Governor John Peter Altgeld’s pardon of the surviving anarchist leaders in 1893.

As the late historian William Adelman often pointed out, the issues surrounding Haymarket remain strikingly relevant 125 years later – civil liberties, tolerance of dissent, police brutality, and prejudice against immigrants, not to mention unemployment and the right to organize.

Things get underway at 2 p.m. on Saturday (April 30) on Randolph Street between Desplaines and Halsted, as the Illinois Labor History Society installs a new plaque at the statue marking the site of the event.  The reenactment is scheduled for 3, and at 4 there’s a followup celebration at the Haymarket Pub nearby.

On Sunday a major labor gathering will will celebrate the rededication and restoration of the monument to the Haymarket Martyrs at Forest  Home Cemetery, 863 Desplaines in Forest Park.  The famous statue by Albert Weinert, installed in 1893, shows the figure of labor shielding a fallen worker.

A thousand union members are expected, with speakers including AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Liz Shuler – the first woman (and the youngest person ever) to hold a top position in the federation – along with international presidents from the Laborers and Painters unions, labor leaders from Canada and Wisconsin, and top local leaders (May 1, 1 p.m.)  It’s sponsored by ILHS, the Illinois AFL-CIO, and the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Earlier that day, at noon on Sunday, Chicago Jobs With Justice will protest international worker exploitation at the Wal-Mart at Desplaines and Roosevelt in Forest Park.  From there they’ll march to the program at the cemetery.

Sunday evening at 7 p.m. ILHS hosts “Music and Rebellion,” a special May Day concert at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, featuring local musicians coordinated by Becky Halker (including Bagwis Collective with Community Media Workshop’s Demetrio Maguigad).

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Category: history, labor

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