The wage might buy a loaf of bread
If they saved all their pay,
Twelve to sixteen hours-a-bustin'
For the boss each day.
They sought to make things over,
They had tired of toil for naught.
They'd bare enough to live on,
And no time for idle thought.
They hungered for the sunshine,
And for smelling of the flowers.
They were certain God had willed it
And they meant to have eight hours.
So they called to all the workers
In shipyard, shop and mill,
" Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest,
And eight for what we will!"
The movement then spread nationwide,
A bursting of the dike,
Three hundred forty thousand men
And women went on strike.
Well, it was eighteen eighty six,
A century ago,
'Was trouble at McCormick Works
In south side Chicago.
Fourteen hundred workers said,
Eight hours-- nothing more!
Old man McCormick thumbed his nose,
And then he locked the door.
Three hundred low-lifes took their place,
Three hundred crossed their lines.
Three hundred scabs sold out the thousands
Holding picket signs.
Ten long weeks of lockout, there was
Still no end in sight.
The scabs were working; workingmen
Were spoiling for a fight.
The third of May McCormick told
His thugs to break the strike.
" Restore the peace," he said,
" And do it any way you like."
At shift change push had come to shove,
The police came around.
Their bullets tore into the crowd
And men fell to the ground.
Blood ran in the gutters as
The gunmen cleared the road,
And little did they think or care
'Bout seeds that they had sowed.
The workers called a protest rally
At Haymarket Square,
And once again police arrived
To stop the rally there.
Pistols at the ready, marching
Several hundred strong,
The blue phalanx in files and ranks
Approached the wary throng.
Shots rang out, and once again
The workers took to flight,
But someone in the shadows hurled
A stick of dynamite.
Policeman Degan died outright
In old Haymarket Square,
And suddenly the street was ripped
With gunfire everywhere.
The police turned their anger 'gainst
The strikers all around,
The workers were all beaten and
Their union halls shut down.
Eight leaders of the eight hour cause
Were arrested and jailed,
The search for who had thrown the bomb
"Revenge!" and "Make
The headlines of the day,
And Chicago halls of justice
Served the law Chicago way.
All eight were found guilty of
Accessory to crime,
Four were hanged, one killed himself,
And all the rest did time.
Tho' before the noose was set,
Each man had his say,
Their silence is more pow'rful than
The men that hanged that day.
The second through the fourth verses are
historical. The last verse is a nod to the words of one of the martyrs. "The
time will come," August Spies told his executioners, "when
our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
In pardoning the three surviving men convicted
of the Haymarket bombing in 1893, Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld wrote, "the
bomb was, in all probability, thrown by someone seeking personal revenge" rather
than as a political manifestation. Altgeld gave as justification "that
for a number of years prior to the Haymarket affair there had been labor
troubles, and in several cases a number of laboring people, guilty of
no offense, had been shot down in cold blood by Pinkerton men, and none
of the murderers were brought to justice." Altgeld destroyed
his political career by taking this view.