Labor History in 2:00

May 30 The Memorial Day Massacre

May 30, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.

That was the day known as among the darkest days for Labor, the Memorial Day Massacre.

For days, strikers had suffered arrests and severe beatings at the hands of Chicago police, who physically prevented them from establishing picket lines at South Chicago’s Republic Steel.  

Joined by supporters from practically all walks of life, strikers decided late in the afternoon to march to the gates, determined to picket.

For Michael Dennis, author of The Memorial Day Massacre and the Movement for Industrial Democracy, “Southeast Chicago became a crucible in which a wide spectrum of social and political alternatives became possible…

The Little Steel Strike was propelled by the realization that workers lived in a country dedicated to democratic freedom, but worked under conditions of near autocracy.”

Men, women, and children, black, white and Mexican workers all chanted “CIO! CIO!” as they marched down Green Bay Avenue.

The Chicago Police waited for them, armed with revolvers, nightsticks and blackjacks.

Strikers defended their right to picket as police once again formed a solid line, preventing their passage.

The police soon launched tear gas canisters and began firing into the crowd.

The picketers turned away in a futile attempt to escape the staggering brutality.

When the dust settled, ten were killed, thirty more shot, twenty-eight others hospitalized with eight suffering permanent disability and another 20-30 injured.

Virtually all those shot had wounds in the back or side.

Michael Dennis notes that the massacre “cast the die for the strike…

Collaboration between municipal officials, corporate leaders and the military in suppressing the strike would go uncontested by federal authorities and cheered by middle-class opinion.”

The campaign to organize Little Steel had suffered a crushing blow.

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