JANUARY 1886–APRIL 1886
THE DEEP WINTER of 1886 passed quietly as Chicagoans hunkered down and endured cold blasts of wind off the plains and the snowstorms they carried; it was no time for street warfare. That time would come after the harsh weather broke in March. Then, prosperous city residents feared, anarchist activity would resume at a much higher level of intensity. They were not disappointed.
As expected, the Internationals took to the streets again, and anxieties rose with the temperature. But then something happened that no one expected, neither the anarchists nor the capitalists, not the editors of the Arbeiter-Zeitung or of the Chicago Tribune. Historians would call it the Great Upheaval, but in 1886 no one knew how to describe the working-class unrest that welled up throughout industrial America.
Beginning in March of 1886, a strange enthusiasm took hold of wage-earning people in industrial centers across the nation as the dream of an eight-hour day suddenly seemed within their grasp. The agitation for shorter hours appeared to be everywhere by April, drawing thousands of unorganized workers into the swelling ranks of the Knights of Labor. Soon a strike fever gripped the nation’s workforce; it peaked on May 1, when 350,000 laborers from coast to coast joined in a coordinated general strike for the eight-hour day.
The strike wave broke for a while and then returned in the fall with another surge of walkouts. By year’s end 610,000 workers had struck, compared to 258,000 the year before. In 1885, 645 job actions affected 2,467 establishments; in 1886, however, more than 1,400 strikes hit 11,562 businesses. 1 Nothing like this had ever happened in America, or in Europe. These huge protests stunned observers like Friedrich Engels, who wrote from London, “History is on the move over there at last.” The Americans, he remarked, were “a people full of energy like no other,” a people who astonished European socialists with “the vastness of their movement.”2
When the Great Upheaval reached its climax on May 1, 1886, Chicago was its epicenter. At least 40,000 workers struck there, but after a while it was impossible to keep count. Perhaps as many as 60,000 laborers left their jobs. Unlike the strikes in other cities, where a few trades took the lead, the upheaval in Chicago reverberated through scores of shops and factories, construction sites and packinghouses; it emptied the huge lumberyards of workers, clogged the harbor with lake vessels and stranded trains in the huge railyards of the nation’s transportation hub. The general strike even sucked in thousands of immigrant factory operatives and common laborers: nowhere was the unskilled proletariat mobilized the way it was in Chicago.
There were many reasons why the eight-hour strikes in Chicago were the largest, most aggressive and most successful in the nation; one important reason was that the anarchists had become so involved in organizing the unskilled, raising the stakes of the struggle and directing the flow of worker protest toward the general strike on May 1, or what they called “Emancipation Day.”3
NO ONE DREAMED that such a massive strike movement was possible in the fall of 1885, when Chicago unionists were still reeling from the police assault that had broken the streetcar strike in July. Indeed, when George Schilling and a few other activists organized a new Eight-Hour Association, union members in the mainstream Trades and Labor Assembly paid no attention; they were still preoccupied with halting the use of laborsaving machines and ending the use of contract laborers, convict laborers and child laborers—all of whom displaced skilled journeymen. These union members seemed to have forgotten that two years earlier their national Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had endorsed a bold call for the inauguration of the eight-hour system on May 1, 1886. Trade union delegates had adopted this resolution when they met at Chicago’s Henry George Hall in 1884, but, as Schilling recalled, the conventioneers “returned home, after passing this resolution, and went to sleep.”4
When fall 1885 turned to winter 1886 and the depression strengthened its hold on the city, trade unionists began to respond to Schilling’s wake-up call. The patient efforts of the Eight-Hour Association now attracted a following among craftsmen who found themselves thrown out of work by the twin evils of overproduction and underconsumption, or else replaced by machines or by young women, farm boys and “botch men” willing to work by the piece. The eight-hour activists’ arguments made sense to these proud but beleaguered craftsmen, who were persuaded that, if employers reduced hours, workers would demand higher wages to compensate for lost time; and, with more free time, they would also want more of the good things in life that the leisure classes enjoyed. As they attained a higher standard of living, workers would become a new mass of consumers whose purchases would alleviate overproduction—the curse of the American industrial system and the cause of depressions.5
The eight-hour reform also appealed to some leading citizens, including Mayor Harrison, who regarded it as a way to reduce unemployment and assuage discontented workers; it even elicited favorable remarks from some newspaper editors, like the Tribune’s Joe Medill.6 The anarchists dismissed the revived eight-hour demand as a mere reform until early 1886, when Albert Parsons convinced Spies, Schwab and Neebe that the Internationals needed to join the new movement that was generating so much enthusiasm among the skilled and unskilled alike.7
Once again the anarchists found themselves working with former socialist comrades and fellow trade unionists. Serious differences remained, however. The leaders of the Eight-Hour Association hoped that employers would voluntarily accept the eight-hour system as a legitimate reform with mutual gains for labor and capital alike. The Internationals, on the other hand, predicted massive employer opposition and argued that success would only come as a result of an aggressive general strike on May 1.
During the next few months the excitement and anticipation of a showdown brought hundreds of fresh recruits into the Knights of Labor. They joined newly formed local assemblies, and like similar bodies across the nation, they resolved to take joint action on May 1, 1886. In doing so, these Knights defied the orders of Grand Master Workman Terence Powderly, who opposed a general strike because he feared it would generate destructive class conflict. He also complained about the “quality” of the new members rushing to join the Knights and even suspended organizing for forty days, but to no avail: his defiant organizers kept on recruiting.8
Propelled by the eight-hour movement’s momentum, the Knights even penetrated two fortresses of antiunionism, the McCormick Reaper Works and the Pullman car shops. After conceding defeat in his battle with union molders the previous year, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., had regained the offensive, determined to win his war against the union.9 In the summer his manager fired top union leaders, and in January 1886 the company terminated nearly all the skilled molders in the works, including the union members who had protested the wage cut the previous March. These skilled men were all replaced by common laborers who operated pneumatic molding machines. Moreover, when McCormick demanded police protection, he now received assurances from city officials that the department would take strong action to protect strikebreakers in any future labor dispute. Chief Inspector Bonfield assumed personal command of the area around the reaper works, replacing the popular Irish captain who had restrained his patrolmen during the last strike at the plant.
Despite all this, McCormick found his control of the works hotly contested by die-hard unionists, who organized a militant new District Assembly of the Knights on the Southwest Side. By February 1886 the union activists had organized nearly everyone in the harvester plant, strikebreakers and all, into two new divisions. The skilled machinists, blacksmiths and pattern makers were grouped together in the United Metal Workers, a militant union allied with the anarchist-led Central Labor Union, and McCormick’s army of common laborers and machine operators were enrolled in the new Knights of Labor District Assembly.
On February 12, 1886, a joint committee of unions presented a list of demands that called for advanced wages in all departments, for an extension to the brief time allowed for toilet use, for the discharge of all scabs, for preferential hiring of old hands displaced by molding machines and for a pledge from management not to terminate any workers for union activity. McCormick accepted some of these proposals but refused the union’s demand that he remove five nonunion men from the plant. In response, a mass meeting of all unions voted to strike in protest. Before the workers could act, however, McCormick declared a lockout and shut the factory down. The stage was set for the final showdown at the reaper works on the Black Road.
After organizing the common laborers at McCormick’s in February, Knights from District Assembly 57 ranged throughout Cook County as far south as Kensington, the wide-open town where George Pullman’s workers went to drink their beers and speak their minds. In April the agitators George Schilling and Albert Parsons addressed a packed meeting in the town’s Turner hall and afterward recruited 400 of Pullman’s skilled car builders for the Knights of Labor. The radical advance men of the Chicago movement had arrived at the gates of the model factory town.10
WITHIN A WEEK, the upsurge in organizing at the McCormick works and Pullman town became episodes in a much larger national manifestation of worker unrest, one triggered by a second titanic confrontation between the Knights of Labor and the managers of Jay Gould’s immense southwestern railroad system.
The Knights of Labor had achieved a spectacular victory against Gould’s railroads the previous July, but soon afterward they saw their members suffer from arbitrary wage cuts, layoffs, transfers and other abuses. When one Knight in Texas was summarily fired for attending a union meeting, he protested that he had been given permission, but to no avail. The company refused to take him back. In response, the order decided to act on its motto: “An injury to one is the concern of all.” On March 6, 1886, the Knights announced the ultimate solidarity strike, calling out all the men on the Texas & Pacific line as a protest against arbitrary treatment of one union railway man. They demanded that management meet with union committees and arbitrate disputes, instead of relying on unilateral action.11 Railroad company managers often dealt with individual craft unions of engineers, firemen and switchmen, but the Knights seemed far more menacing because they stood for all grades of workers and because they believed in cooperative enterprise.
The 1886 strike on the Gould system assumed an epic significance because it raised an essential question about American freedom: When a wage earner freely contracted with an employer, did the employee agree to sacrifice his liberty in return for compensation? The railroad owners believed so and stood firmly on the principle that “the right to hire men for what labor is offered in the market must be upheld against brute force,” if necessary.12 The Knights of Labor rejected this principle, insisting that men with empty stomachs made no free contracts, and that workers who sold their labor in order to live usually assented or submitted, but rarely consented, to the terms of an employment contract. Without a union, the Knights argued, the railroad worker found himself in a kind of indenture, a form of “involuntary servitude” prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment.13
The Strike, a graphic reproduction of a painting by Robert Kohler depicting the scene at a factory during the Great Upheaval
The Knights not only posed fundamental questions about freedom; they raised the specter of two new kinds of concerted action by workers: the boycott and the sympathy strike. The unionists had been extremely effective in organizing boycotts to support fellow workers on strike in various cities, notably in Chicago, but they had never engaged in a sympathetic strike like the one the Knights called against Gould’s railroads in 1886, initiating a trend that disturbed employers for years to come. During the first five years of the 1880s, only 33 sympathy strikes occurred; after 1886 came a five-year period when workers struck in support of fellow workers 397 times. 14
Terence Powderly and other leading Knights warned their southwestern members not to take the risky job action against the nation’s most powerful capitalist, but to no end. The walkout kept spreading along the rail lines of the 10,000-mile southwestern system, so that in a few days 14,000 railroad men had quit work. The strike soon became the most violent conflict the nation had suffered since the 1877 uprising, as strikers halted engines, intimidated strikebreakers and battled armed posses of railroad gunmen along the routes. In some places the conflict seemed like a “social war” as rank-and-file Knights of Labor demonstrated an extreme bitterness toward their employers.15
No strike seemed more like a “species of civil war” than the confrontation at the McCormick works in Chicago. After locking out striking molders, plant managers trolled the Midwest for replacement workers and issued revolvers to 82 loyal employees who were ready to work when the plant resumed operations; they also set up kitchens to serve food to a formidable detachment of 400 police sent to protect strikebreakers. When McCormick reopened with a nonunion workforce, Chief Inspector Bonfield commanded an all-out assault on the combined union picket lines and opened a cordon sanitaire for the strikebreakers.16
The locked-out workers immediately called a mass meeting near the plant, which was addressed by leading Knights as well as by Albert Parsons of the Alarm and Michael Schwab of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, who spoke in German. Despite the garrisoning of the works by Bonfield’s men and Pinkerton’s agents, the battle at McCormick’s raged into April as strikers and their neighbors “waylaid the scabs on their way to the plant,” in the words of one reporter, who added that police were kept jumping from one point to another in a vain attempt to protect the nonunion men. 17
As the area around the big reaper works began to resemble a war zone, it became clear that the tension building between rival forces could no longer be relieved—not by McCormick, who vowed to destroy the union; not by the strikers, who refused to sacrifice their manhood by returning to work on McCormick’s terms; not by the anarchists, who were preparing for street warfare; not by the mayor, who no longer controlled the police department; and certainly not by Inspector Bonfield, who intended to crush the workers’ resistance.
Then, in the midst of this tense standoff, news arrived from downstate that heightened the strikers’ worst fears of what might happen in Chicago. On April 9 the great southwest strike against the Gould rail system leapt across the Mississippi River into Illinois at East St. Louis, a bustling railroad town less than half a day away from Chicago by fast train. The Knights, led by determined switchmen, had disabled trains at this important western terminus of several major rail lines. That day, a sheriff’s posse composed of railway employees opened fire with Winchester rifles on a picket line after one striker defied a warning and set foot on company property. The deputies, largely recruited from loyal Gould employees, killed seven strikers and wounded many more. Railway workers and their supporters, enraged by the massacre of unarmed men, reacted by burning railroad shops and destroying property in the yards. The news of the killings so alarmed Governor Oglesby that he placed the city under martial law and ordered seventeen companies of National Guard troops to East St. Louis. Reports of the massacre infuriated the anarchists in Chicago and became the cause célèbre of nightly protest meetings.18
It did not take long for the Great Upheaval to rumble into Chicago. The next day, April 10, 1,300 union switchmen paralyzed train traffic in the city’s numerous railyards when they left work to demand that their brothers be hired instead of nonunion men. For a few days the specter of 1877 again hung over the city, until Philip Armour and other packinghouse owners persuaded the railway company executives to accede to the strikers’ demands rather than cause another “railroad war.”19
THE EXCITEMENT GENERATED by the Knights’ revival at the McCormick works and by the railroad workers’ challenge to the mighty Jay Gould reverberated through all of Chicago’s factories and shops. New Knights of Labor trade assemblies popped up all over the city as 10,000 workers poured into the resurgent order. The Knights also organized more mixed assemblies to accept common laborers and other immigrants, some of whom said they wanted to enlist in the grand army of labor so that they too could turn out on strike. New recruits included young women who toiled as domestic servants and the “sewing girls” in the city’s huge clothing industry.20
After one garment-shop owner locked out his female employees, the union women formed “Our Girls Cooperative Clothing Manufacturing Company.” Its objective was “to elevate the intellectual, social, and financial condition of its members, and the manufacturing of all classes of clothing, and the sewing of any cloth goods in use in wholesale or retail trade.” Capitalized at $10,000, the cooperative was owned entirely by union members who bought shares of stock for $10 each. Net profits were divided equally among stockholders, workers and the cooperative fund of the order’s General Assembly. Forty women were steadily employed in the worker-run shop, where they labored for only eight hours a day; it was one of twenty such cooperative initiatives launched by the Chicago Knights.21
The urge to organize and mobilize even seeped into the worst sweatshops on the West Side, filled with the city’s newest immigrants—Jews who had fled the horrendous pogroms in Russia a few years before. Abraham Bisno, a young cloak maker, remembered that these newcomers spoke no German or English and knew nothing about boycotts or the eight-hour strikes reported on so extensively in newspapers that reached other immigrants. Still, the eight-hour fever was so contagious it crossed into this isolated Jewish settlement. At one meeting August Spies addressed the cloak makers with the help of a Yiddish translator, and at another an American Knight struggled to explain the eight-hour cause in English. “There was great tumult,” Bisno recalled, “everybody was talking and nobody quite knew what this thing was about.” But even a Yiddish speaker like Bisno grasped the core message. “All I knew then of the principles of the Knights of Labor was that the motto . . . was ‘One for All, and All for One.’ ”22
Whether their pay was high or low, Chicago workers flocked to the eight-hour cause because it constituted a freedom movement. Eight-hour visionaries looked forward to a new day when wage earners no longer lived just to work, and simultaneously looked backward to a time when people toiled together under the sky and close to the earth, passing the time of day without clocks and factory whistles, without machines or foremen to govern their pace. 23 The Knights opened and closed their meetings and rallies with songs that evoked this desire for freedom from the long arm of the job. Their anthem was the “Eight-Hour Song.”
We want to feel the sunshine;
We want to smell the flowers;
We’re sure God has willed it.
And we mean to have eight hours.
We’re summoning our forces from
Shipyard, shop and mill;
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest,
Eight hours for what we will.24
Chicago’s workers, who were mostly newcomers from other places, usually small towns and rural districts, missed feeling the sun on their faces and smelling the flowers in warm months, for they lived and worked in a “city of smoke” where, as one traveler noted, “not even a ghost of the sun” shined.25 Still, some found themselves tantalizingly close to nature at times. Those who toiled at the reaper works and in the lumberyards could see the prairie grasses fading into the western horizon, and, on some days they could even smell the crops when a dry prairie wind blew in from the northwest. On most days, however, a sickening odor drifted out of the stockyards and blanketed the immigrant neighborhoods of Pilsen and the West Side.26 In a city where industry slaughtered millions of animals, blotted out the sky with smoke, poisoned the river with blood and guts and ground up fingers of factory hands like sausage stuffing, workers yearned to save part of themselves and to reclaim part of their day from the chaos of Chicago industry and from what Kipling called its “grotesque ferocity.”27
AS MAY 1 approached, thousands of working people took heart from the radical notion that wage earners could unilaterally cut the length of the workday by making one unified show of solidarity instead of relying upon a frustrating legislative strategy. Many of the workers who flooded into the new assemblies formed by the Knights of Labor said they were joining the union so they could prepare to strike on the great day to come. The “mushroom growth” of the union worried its national leader, Terence Powderly, who strongly disapproved of strikes—the very actions that had brought about the order’s great revival—arguing that if the eight-hour day was to be achieved, it must come through legislation, not through aggressive job actions or boycotts and not through the general refusal to work more than eight hours on May 1.28
Grand Master Workman Powderly found himself on the horns of a dilemma as May 1 approached. A small, slender man with magnificent mustachios, the Knights’ leader looked to one Chicago labor writer “more like a college professor than a man who swung a hammer.” Yet Powderly was a gifted orator, a charismatic personality who captivated his audiences and who won thousands of recruits to his order. A man of soaring ambition, he hoped that, as master of the order, he would become one of the leading men of his time. Under his guidance the Knights had begun to realize William Sylvis’s dream of a unified national labor movement that extended itself to women, blacks, immigrants and other sympathetic members of the producing classes. A Catholic reformer who embraced a moralistic idea of socialism, Powderly sought to take the high road; that is, he hoped to create a reform movement and ultimately a new social order in which class conflict would be replaced by cooperative enterprises and collaborative solutions to workplace conflicts. So, like many union leaders of the day, he feared strikes and regarded such job actions as desperate measures to be employed only as a last resort.29
Terence V. Powderly, Grand Master Workman, Knights of Labor, 1886
However, the rank-and-file Knights, including many who had been inspired by Powderly, were in a radically different mood, especially in Chicago, where militant local leaders showed no qualms about striking McCormick’s and boycotting hundreds of “rat” employers. The unions waged two effective boycott campaigns against prison-made shoes and “rat made” boxes produced by the Maxwell company; both efforts promoted the growth of the Knights, according to the Tribune—so much so that nearly every local assembly needed to find larger meeting halls to accommodate new members, who now poured in at a rate of 1,000 per week.30
The anarchists viewed the Knights’ new power as “a very favorable development” and hoped the eight-hour movement would lead union members “in the right direction toward radicalism.”31 Like the Knights, anarchist union organizers were using the eight-hour issue to recruit thousands of new members in 1886. Albert Parsons, the most effective labor agitator in the city, spoke at numerous venues and did everything in his power for the eight-hour movement. Meanwhile, August Spies and Oscar Neebe of the Arbeiter-Zeitung organized hundreds of butchers, bakers and brewers. All three groups won shorter hours at increased pay from their employers, mostly small-time German entrepreneurs.32
Anarchist organizers like Louis Lingg also succeeded in efforts to organize German and Bohemian carpenters into new unions, some with “armed sections.” Other carpenters of various nationalities responded to the agitation for the eight-hour day by rushing into the Knights of Labor’s five trade assemblies. The original craft union in the trade, the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, was riddled by defections to these two new bodies. In spite of their rivalries, all three union groups unified around the demand for shorter hours. They formed a tripartite United Carpenters’ Committee, opened negotiations with the Contractors’ Association for an eight-hour day and quickly achieved success. With prosperity around the corner and spring construction projects set to get under way, the contractors quickly acceded to the United Carpenters’ demands.33
By the end of April more than 47,000 Chicago workers had gained a shorter workday, some of them without a corresponding reduction in wages. The City Council had approved an eight-hour day for public employees with Mayor Harrison’s warm endorsement. It looked as though the movement was unstoppable. 34 Albert Parsons was so encouraged that he allowed himself to hope that the culmination of the eight-hour crusade on May 1 would not lead to violence. “The movement to reduce the work-hours” was not intended to provoke a social revolution, he informed the press, but to provide “a peaceful solution to the difficulties between capitalists and laborers.” 35
After establishing beachheads in the stockyards, the breweries and the bakeries, the anarchist-led Central Labor Union reached out to unorganized groups like tanners and saddlers, masons and wagonmakers, grocery clerks and sewing girls, Russian tailors and Bohemian lumber shovers. CLU organizers and IWPA agitators spoke at meetings almost every night in the city’s industrial districts, addressing various groups of unskilled workers in German and Czech, as well as Danish and Norwegian; and, for the first time, Polish agitators appealed to their countrymen, the largest and lowest-paid group of unorganized workers in the city.36
One of the CLU’s greatest accomplishments came in the fast-growing furniture-making industry, where a small organization of 800 mainly German craftsmen in smaller custom shops extended its benefits to men who operated woodworking machines in larger factories. In the third week of April these allied furniture workers walked out of two large firms, demanding eight-hour workdays and increased pay.37
These actions by unskilled workers marked a turning point in the eight-hour movement. It was now clear that common laborers would take disciplined action for a demand that had been initially conceived of by skilled workers. The craftsmen who launched the movement had proposed a simple bargain to their employers: if the men were granted a shorter working day, they would accept pay that was reduced accordingly. Even if they lost two or more hours of wages each day, the eight-hour men believed they would achieve their initial objective. The “eight-hour system” would serve as a first step toward reducing unemployment and inducing a desire for a higher standard of living among tradesmen with more leisure and more desire to consume. But as the eight-hour movement in Chicago broadened, this incremental strategy disintegrated. Low-paid butchers, bakers, brewers and lumber shovers were unwilling to accept a pay cut to achieve what they now regarded as a legitimate right. And so they rallied to the new demand raised by the anarchists in April: eight hours’ work for ten hours’ pay.38
The anarchists’ cry of “eight for ten” appealed to the soldiers in Chicago’s huge army of common laborers. These were people who had endured long hours and frozen wages, as well as pay cuts, for two years; now, with prosperity returning and city industry booming, they refused to accept another loss of income as the price of winning the eight-hour day. George Schilling and the leaders of the Eight-Hour Association objected to this radical demand, however, because they knew it would provoke outrage among their supporters in the press and among employers who were willing to consider shortening the workday as long as wages were reduced accordingly.
The militants’ goal of winning shorter hours without losing pay also called for a more unified, more militant movement. While craft unionists could attack one employer or a few contractors at a time and use their skilled training as leverage, unskilled laborers needed to act together to wage mass, industry-wide strikes. And so, the logic of solidarity espoused by the Knights and the International made sense to them.39 As common laborers and factory operatives joined the eight-hour movement, the anarchists took heart. This was the breakthrough Albert Parsons had dreamed of when he linked up with the old eight-hour philosopher Ira Steward six years earlier: the skilled and the unskilled mobilized together in a “class movement” ready to take militant action to achieve a common goal. 40
ON APRIL 25, 1886, after Chicago’s employers and their families attended Easter services in the city’s Protestant churches, some of the churchgoers gathered along downtown streets to watch a spirited march of 15,000 workers to the lakefront organized by the Central Labor Union. The column extended for two miles and passed 50,000 people who lined the route to the lake. 41 The marchers started out from the West Side, where red banners floated over hundreds of buildings, and paraded slowly and merrily through the deserted streets of downtown until they reached the lakeshore. There, in a festive atmosphere, Parsons and Fielden spoke in English while Spies and Schwab spoke in German to what one reporter called “a multitude of discontented workingmen.” Moved by the occasion, Schwab reverted to the imagery of Easter he recalled from his Catholic boyhood in Bavaria. He told the crowd that their ancestors had been celebrating this day as the springtime revival of nature since ancient times, just as their fathers and grandfathers had celebrated the Redeemer’s resurrection. “Today, the workers of Chicago are also celebrating their resurrection,” Schwab proclaimed. “They have risen from their long indolence and indifference; they have seen what they can accomplish walking hand in hand.”42
The ebullient mood on the lakefront that Sunday contrasted with the impatient mood the business press expressed on Monday. Boycotts, lockouts, strikes and labor actions had interrupted the city’s newfound prosperity, the Chicago Journal complained. Every form of business and industrial enterprise had been “attacked or threatened” by eight-hour strikers. Employers who were willing to accept shorter hours at reduced wages were now faced with more than 20,000 strikers demanding ten hours’ pay for eight hours’ work. The Tribune labeled this fresh demand a “simple impossibility” and blamed it on the “Communistic element fermenting among the laboring classes.” There was no doubt now that the crisis lay ahead: Chicago businessmen had better prepare for the worst.43
Chief Inspector Bonfield agreed, telling the press he expected “a great deal of trouble” on May 1 and issuing an order that would place the entire force on duty come Saturday morning.44 The First Cavalry Regiment of the Illinois National Guard had already conducted an impressive drill and full-dress parade at the request of the Commercial Club, a group that had been formed after the Great Uprising of 1877. After reviewing the cavalry, the club members, led by Philip Armour, raised funds to equip the First Infantry militia with better arms, including $2,000 to “furnish the regiment with a good machine gun, to be used by them in case of trouble.”45
Editors focused their attention more than ever on the anarchists, who were, despite their denials, accused of plotting to use the May Day strike as an occasion to precipitate a riot. The Chicago Mail singled out Parsons and Spies as “two dangerous ruffians” who had been “at work fomenting disorder for the past ten years.” They should have been driven out of the city long ago, said the editorial. Now they were taking advantage of the excitement generated by the eight-hour movement to instigate strikes and to cause injury to capital and honest labor in every possible way. Spies and Parsons did not have one honest aim in mind, said the Mail. They should be marked by the police and held personally responsible for any trouble that came to the city.46
Even under these circumstances, Spies and Parsons betrayed no fears; indeed, they wrote and spoke with more assertion and conviction than ever. Privately, however, they may have shared the anxiety of their comrade William Holmes, who feared that when this great test between the labor movement and the “money power” reached its climax on May 1, “desperate days” would follow very soon.47