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The Haymarket riot or Haymarket massacre was a struggle for workers’ rights and has become a symbol of the rights of workers internationally. The incident highlighted the increasing confrontations that were taking place between the workers and the industrialists. The workers having formed unions were agitating for greater power and economic security as well as better working conditions in the workplaces. Since 1889 it has been associated with international Labor Day celebrated on May 1 every year.
The riot took place on May 4, a day after police intervention between strikers who wanted to return to work and those who tried to prevent them, during a strike at McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. The strike was part of a workers campaign for 8 hour working days. The labor leaders called a meeting at Haymarket square to protest the police action and the governor was present as an observer. After most of the demonstrators had dispersed peacefully, a bomb was thrown by an unidentified person and the violence that followed a peaceful meeting, led to several deaths. The riot created an atmosphere of distrust and frenzy against immigrant workers and labor leaders. Amidst allegations and counter allegations eight people were convicted of murder, although nothing was ever proved against any of them. Of the eight known as the Chicago Eight, four were hanged on November 11 1887 while one committed suicide. When the remaining three sent a mercy petition to the then governor of Illinois, a few years later, it was found that the judge and jury had been biased and evidence fabricated against the defendants. They were therefore pardoned to the dismay of industrialists and the press. The pardon was a shot in the arm for those in favor of labor reform. Mary Harris Jones who worked as an organizer for the Knights of Labor passionately declared “I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in
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