Today in Labor History May 4

The Haymarket Affair

Today in Labor History May 4, 1886: A day after police killed four striking workers and injured hundreds, protesters gathered at Haymarket Square in Chicago. As the peaceful event drew to a close, someone threw a bomb at the police, who responded by shooting into the crowd. Eight anarchists were later arrested. However, most were not even present during the bombing. Four were hanged, one committed suicide and three were eventually pardoned by Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld. Because of the Haymarket Affair, police went on national witch hunt against anarchists and labor radicals. And, as a result of the witch hunt, the Knights of Labor quickly lost popularity. Prior to the Haymarket Affair, the Knights of Labor had been growing rapidly, attracting radicals and anarchists because of their solidarity with all workers.


May 4, 1904: U.S. took over construction of the Panama Canal from the French. During the U.S. phase, 5,600 workers died from disease or accidents, despite extensive mosquito mitigation efforts. And 20,000 men died before that, during the French attempt to build the canal. The vast majority of workers who died were local people from Panama and the Caribbean, not Frenchmen, nor U.S. citizens. Like today, with the Covid Pandemic, these lives were considered expendable for the sake of profits.


May 4, 1916: British authorities executed Willie Pearse and Joseph Plunkett, two more leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

May 4, 1919: Students demonstrated in Beijing, marking the beginning of the anti-imperialist May 4th Movement.

Today in Labor History May 4, 1919The Fremantle Wharf Riot occurred on the Australian waterfront. Striking wharf laborers battled strikebreakers and police. The police killed one person, Thomas Edwards, and injured thirty-three others. 

General Strike

May 4, 1926: Workers started a General Strike in the U.K. Unions called the strike to force the government to prevent wage reductions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. The strike lasted until May 12. Over 1.7 million workers participated. However, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) limited participation to just a few unions because they feared the revolutionary potential of an full blown General Strike. In their newspaper, they wrote: “The General Strike. . . is the road to anarchy.”

Battle of Alcatraz

Today in Labor History May 4, 1946: The U.S. government deployed marines to end the  Battle of Alcatraz. It began as a failed prison escape. It turned into a war-like battle, with marines using grenades and mortars against prisoners. Three of the perpetrators and two prison officials died in the fighting. Fourteen other officers were injured. The government later executed two more prisoners for participating in the riot. One of the prisoners who died in the riot, had recently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. He claimed the cops had beat a confession out of him and he had hospital records to prove it.


Today in Writing History May 4, 1953: Hemmingway won the Pulitzer Prize for “Old Man and the Sea.”

May 4, 1961: The “Freedom Ride” bus trips began throughout the American South. The Freedom Rides were organized by James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to desegregate bus terminals. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) also organized Freedom Rides. On May 14, Mother’s Day, a mob of Klansmen attacked a Freedom Bus in Anniston, Alabama. They set it on fire and tried to burn the riders alive. An undercover cop may have helped them get free. The KKK also attacked the bus in Birmingham. Klansmen attacked the riders with bats and pipes.


Today in Labor History May 4, 1970: Ohio National Guards murdered four students at Kent State University. They also injured nine others, including one who was permanently paralyzed. During the massacre, they fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds at the unarmed crowd. The students were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. 

Today in Writing History May 4, 1973: Author Jane Bowles died.

Today in History May 4, 1975: Top Stooge, Moe Howard, died.


May 4, 1989: 30,000 students marched for democracy to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. 

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