What was the Haymarket Bombing, and what effects did it have on U.S. society?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Haymarket Bombing was a violent episode of labor strife that occurred in Chicago in May of 1886.  Its main effect on American society was to make many Americans have negative views towards labor unions.  Because of this, it did serious harm to the labor movement of the time.

During the late 1800s, American workers were trying hard to create unions that could help them to improve things like their working conditions and wages.  They were strongly opposed by companies and, in many cases, by governments.  Within the labor movement, there were some differences of philosophy.  On the one hand, there were “bread and butter” unionists who wanted higher pay and better working conditions.  On the other, there were much more radical unionists who wanted to overthrow the capitalist system.  Among the radical fringe were anarchists, who were relatively plentiful in the US in the late 1800s. 

In 1886, there was labor unrest in Chicago.  As part of this unrest, there was a large gathering on May 4.  During that gathering, someone threw a bomb among the police who were monitoring the protestors.  In the chaos after the bomb exploded, many people were killed and injured.  Many middle class Americans saw this bombing as evidence that the labor movement was a bad thing for the country.  This meant that they lost any sympathy that they might once have had for unions.  This, of course, hurt labor unions.  It led, for example, to the death of the Knights of Labor, one of the first major national unions.

Thus, we can say that the Haymarket Bombing affected our society by greatly reducing support for labor unions.

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