The eight-hour workday has a historic – and tragic – link to Chicago history.
In 1886, workers were toiling 10 to 12 hours a day in the stockyards, rail yards, and factories of Chicago. A series of strikes and protests throughout the city in early May of that year made the eight-hour workday their focus and central demand.
On May 4, 1886, in the Haymarket on Randolph Street near Halsted Street, someone threw a dynamite bomb after an otherwise peaceful labor rally. In the resulting riot, seven policemen and an unknown number of demonstrators lost their lives.
Police arrested hundreds of labor activists, and ultimately charged eight men. Even though most of the defendants hadn’t even attended the rally, with urging from Chicago’s business leaders and newspapers, all eight “anarchists” were convicted, without legal precedent, of a conspiracy. Seven were sentenced to death.
Four of the men were later hanged in the alley behind what was then the Cook County Courthouse at 54 West Hubbard Street. The case is considered one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in American history.