This year is the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket Riots, which took place on May 4, 1886. What I remember from my high school history classes: 1) It is part of the basis for the International May Day holiday; 2) The riot began when a bomb was thrown at the end of a day of speechmaking and police opened fire; 3) People died that day, including one police officer killed by the bomb; 4) Four men were hanged. It always struck me as a a shameful moment in our history. That the government wrongfully convicted and executed these men, either for being foreigners (they were German), or socialists. And it was because of a sense of shame that we do not celebrate May Day with the rest of the world, even though the May 1886 strikes and the Haymarket riots happened in this country. But I guess it’s more because it’s considered a socialist holiday and we are NOT socialists here.

It makes me want to go find some old history books and refresh my memory of the labor movement in this country. There’s stuff going on these days – amending collective bargaining rights for government workers, removing that mural in the Maine state building – that just makes me want to try to understand. Do we remember why unions were started in the first place? To change conditions for workers who had no other way to demand humane working conditions? Are the legislative amendments happening today only because people recognize a need to reform the parts of union contracts that are unfairly crippling government budgets? Or is there something more nefarious going on? That we really are shifting our society to one where only the wealthy and the business owners have all the power? It kind of feels that way. I hate having to recognize that the bottom line always does end up being a power issue.

Anyway, I’m rambling. This is something I want to think about more. I definitely have mixed feelings about the new laws limiting collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Illinois. It was just the anniversary of MLK Jr’s assassination – and I thought about how he’d view some of the changes to collective bargaining laws. And now they are reenacting Haymarket. It’s not a typical event here. It probably is inspired by all the anti-union legislation being proposed and passed in our neighboring Midwest states. And that a new bar opened up the street and called itself “Haymarket Pub and Brewery”. I’m no socialist – I don’t believe that organized workers have any better chance of running things fairly and equitably than big business – they’re just going to try to run things so it’s better for themselves. I think something more fundamental needs to be fixed, so that we aren’t all just out for ourselves. That the group we stand up and fight for is bigger than a category like “laborers”, or “women”, or even “children.” That when you fight for one person’s fundamental rights, that doesn’t mean you have to take someone else’s away. It can’t be that the world is only just a zero sum game every time.

So, I actually live right at site of where Haymarket stood. Where rioting and dying happened 125 years ago. The reenactment is part of the event where they will be dedicating a new plaque. Right now, there is just a sculpture on the sidewalk. For the reenactment, they are looking for 175 volunteers to be the policemen. I guess the announcement also says you can show up as a worker or anarchist. In period attire! What could I wear? I can only assume that they are only reenacting the speeches and not the ensuing violence. Has the city really given them a permit for this? I am tempted to volunteer to to be a policeman because then I get a hat, badge, coat, and a “special gift” from Haymarket Pub! But a part of me finds it odd that they are trying to make this a party. Am I the only one whose worried that this is going to bring the crazies out?

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