chapter  3
18 Pages

Remembering Haymarket and the control for public memory: Paul A. Shackel


The historical memory of any transforming or controversial event emerges from cultural and political competition, and issues related to the memory of labour are no different. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, capital and labour have clashed over wages, length of the working day and safety conditions in the workplace. These differences sometimes have been expressed through covert acts of resistance such as sabotage, work slowdowns or absenteeism. Other times labour and capital have had public demonstrations of their disagreements and they have played out in the form of strikes and strike-breaking. Those who have the power to control the public memory of these events can command the historical consciousness. While labour and capital have been often at odds when interpreting the labour movement, the recent phenomenon to memorialise these contentious events through dialogue has muted some perspectives. As a result, the struggle for an inclusive official memory continues. The Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1886 is a fascinating story whereby

capital and law enforcement tried unsuccessfully for over a century to mute the voices of labour. In fact, national and international labour rallied around the memory of the labour martyrs. Through ceremonial events, literature and memorials on the landscape, labour’s perspective of the event is prominent. Those who were unjustly hanged for being associated with the riot have been transformed into martyrs around the globe. The events associated with the Haymarket riot and the competing versions for the memory of the incident are continually being negotiated today.