Memory of 'Haymarket' affair reminder of anarchism's relevance

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One hundred and twenty-three years ago this week, a series of events regarding the burgeoning of the labor movement in the United States culminated into what Howard Zinn, historian and professor emeritus of political science at Boston University, in a phone interview last week, calls "the most dramatic event of that period" and "one of the great judicial scandals in American history." The incident itself, known as the "Haymarket Affair," reads like a macabre drama of triumph and tragedy involving an inspiring social movement struggling against the forces of evil, a retaliatory bombing of police officers and the trial/execution of a group of innocents accused egregiously of the crime.

After having narrated for the Wildcat an American people's history of International Workers Day ("A people's history of May Day" May 1, 2009), Zinn elaborated on the continuing effect of the atmosphere that came to signify the International Workers Day: "The May Day strikes around the country, in Chicago, led to a strike at the McCormick Harvester plant. And the police were called out to break up the strike. And police are not neutral. Police are generally on the side of the bosses, the corporations. The police came out and they killed several strikers," inciting great anger in the labor community.

It's suitable to pause for a moment at the beginning and note the protagonists of the history, American anarchists. Just as in Europe, Zinn recalled, in the U.S. there was a strong anarchist movement, which had its center in Chicago. "And the anarchist organizers in Chicago called for a protest against the killing of the Harvester workers. And so a rally was called for Haymarket Square in Chicago. And there were hundreds of people at the rally, and it was addressed by various people who supported the labor movement, including several anarchist leaders."

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