The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor has become a symbol of the hopes of men, women and children who came to America in search of a better life.
And in a Forest Park cemetery, a statue has become a testament to the struggles that workers here and everywhere have had to endure to take part in that better life.
That tribute, the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument, has been called by many “The Statue of Liberty” to workers’ worldwide. But since its dedication in 1893, it has fallen on hard times. The iconic bronze wreath at the monument's base was stolen, along with a plaque honoring the monument's namesake martyrs.
Age, graffiti and the elements dulled the rest.
But now the memorial has been restored, and a talk about the process and what it symbolizes will be the focus of a program, “Haymarket Revisited,” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 12 in the Veterans Room at the .
“We need to tell the stories of people to help the public understand that workers built this country. American history is labor history, and labor history is American history," said Oak Parker Larry Spivack, president of the Illinois Labor History Society, the organization that owns the monument.
Spivack will be among the speakers at Tuesday's program. Others include Mark Rogovin, founder of the Chicago Peace Museum and editor of "The Day Will Come," the stories of the martyrs and people who are buried alongside the monument, and Andrzej Dajnowski, president of Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, who will talk about the restoration how parts of the monument were recreated.
Frank Lipo, executive director of the , will also be part of the program.
Tuesday's free event is co-sponsored by the Illinois Labor History Society and the Historical Society of Oak Park & River Forest.
It's one of several events culminating in the rededication of the monument and observance of the 125th anniversary of the Haymarket tragedy.
On May 1 — International Labor Day — the bronze flower artwork and a recreation of the plaque will be re-installed at the Forest Home Cemetery, 863 Des Plaines Ave. in Forest Park. Speakers at that free event will include Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.
The ILHA not only cares for the memorial – featuring a statue that resembles the female figure in “Lady Leading the People” by French painter Eugene Delacroix – but also educates the public about the rich yet little-known history of the labor movement in Illinois, said Spivack, also is the regional director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
The society also focuses on the meaning behind the monument, which in 1997 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Its story is classic battle between labor and corporate interests and the power of the state to attempt to diminish workers’ rights, Spivack said.
Tensions had been rising in the 1870s and 1880s over an effort to secure an eight hour work day. A hotbed of those battles was Chicago, which had one-quarter of the organized workers in the country.
Many of them were immigrants.
Strikes and lockouts took place all over the city; many led to confrontations with the police. On May 3, 1886, hundreds in Chicago converged for a demonstration at the McCormick Reaper Works (now called Navistar), where the workers had been locked out. Police attacked the crowd with clubs and bullets; two protesters were killed.
A rally was called for the evening of May 4 at Haymarket Square, at Randolph Street and Des Plaines Avenue, to protest the police reaction. About 2,500 people showed up; the event was peaceful.
Shortly after Mayor Carter Harrison left the event, 175 policemen surged forward to break up the crowd, which by that time had dwindled to about 250. Someone threw a bomb, the area went dark. The police started firing.
The bomb killed a police officer, Mathias Degan, Spivack said, and seven other policemen were shot and killed by "friendly fire." Dozens were injured. The next day Harrison declared martial law, making all public gatherings illegal and closing all union newspapers.
Over the ensuring days, 200 labor leaders were jailed and eight were selected to be charged with conspiracy in connection with Degan’s murder: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Oscar Neebe and Louis Lingg. Only Spies and Fielden had been there at the time that the bomb exploded, Spivack said. The trial took about three months, that event and the subsequent sentencing drew international protests.
Neebee got a prison term of 15 years of hard labor in Joliet. The seven were sentenced to hang.
The day before the execution, Fielden’s and Schwab’s sentences were commuted to life in prison. Lingg died after lighting a cigar containing a dynamite cap.
On Nov. 11, shortly after singing the “La Marseillaise,” the song of the French Revolution, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fischer were hanged, Spivack said.
No one knows who threw the bomb or where the cigar came from, Spivack said.
(Neebe, Fielden and Schwab were later pardoned by Gov. John Peter Altgeld, who found their prosecutions to be a miscarriage of justice.)
In 1889, at the International’s Second Congress in Paris, May 1 was declared International Workers’ Day in commemoration of the Haymarket incident and to honor laborers all around the world. According to Spivack, it is the most celebrated secular holiday in the world, except in the United States, where Labor Day is observed on the first Monday in September.
The Haymarket incident and the statue still resonate, Spivack said, and he pointed to recent protests over efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere to strip public employees of their bargaining rights.
“Once again this is all about curbing union power. Today’s corporate agenda is similar to the agenda of the rich and powerful of the 1880s. They are trying using the power of the state to dismantle the collective power of working people," he said.
The ILHS is looking to raise $100,000 to continue its efforts; so far it’s raised half that amount. For more information about donating and about other Haymarket-related events, log on to the society’s website.