From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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May 17, 1886

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The day before the riot at Haymarket Square a large disturbance had broken out at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. There labor and management had been in heated disagreement since mid-February. Although Cyrus McCormick, Jr., the company's president, had been willing to increase wages and rehire union members, he had refused to dismiss several nonunion men. With negotiations at a deadlock the plant was closed on February 16. It reopened the first of March with replacement employees who were protected by Pinkerton guards. For months small confrontations took place daily just outside the factory whenever replacement workers arrived at or left from work.

On the afternoon of May 3, members of the Lumber Shovers' Union, who were on a strike of their own, were holding a rally not far from the McCormick works. Their main objective was a reduction of work hours. While this rally was taking place the dismissal bell rang at the harvester works. And numbers of distracted lumber handlers moved over to the McCormick factory. Thus reinforced, the harvester strikers assaulted the exiting scab employees and their private guards and began destroying plant property. Regular police were summoned to help repulse the strikers. The melee resulted in several deaths and numerous injuries. In this incident's aftermath a protest meeting at the Haymarket Square was held the next evening.

This petition was referred to the council's Committee on Finance on May 17. In a letter of June 15 the city's attorney advised that committee that although the circumstances of the petitioner were worthy of sympathy the city was by no means liable for compensation. And on December 10, the full council ordered the petition placed on file.

Points to Consider

Under what circumstances was Joseph Svaneck killed?

Describe the labor disturbance near McCormick's Reaper works which occurred on May 3, 1886.

Without aid from the council, what was the likely fate of Mrs. Svaneck and her five children?

Was the city morally responsible to Mrs. Svaneck and her family? Why?

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