May 5 Bay View Massacre

May 5, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1886. 

That was the day Wisconsin State Militia shot down workers striking for the eight-hour day in Milwaukee, killing seven. 

It is known as the Bay View Massacre.

As cities across America erupted into strikes for the eight-hour day, municipal workers in Milwaukee had already won shorter working hours. 

Many private employers had followed suit. 

The Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor mobilized thousands in the campaign to bring the rest of the city’s employers into line. 

Building tradesmen joined Polish, German and Native American laborers in strikes and marches across the city for nearly a week 

They marched to area factories, calling out to workers to join the strike. 

By May 3, every factory in town was shut down except for the Milwaukee Iron Company Rolling Mill in Bay View. 

Workers marched to the mills and demanded workers join them. 

At this point, Governor Rusk called out the militia.

They formed a line just inside the gates to prevent strikers from reaching mill workers. 

As the events of Haymarket unfolded in Chicago that evening, area businessmen became increasingly fearful of upheaval brewing in the city.

Governor Rusk gave the ‘shoot to kill’ orders should any striker attempt to enter the mills.

The next morning, as 1500 strikers marched towards the mill, they were fired upon by the militia.

Seven were killed, many more injured.

Strikes for the eight-hour day ended abruptly.

Many union leaders were indicted and Polish workers were practically blacklisted from working in the city for their radicalism.

Though the massacre shattered hopes for the eight-hour day, Milwaukeeans responded by electing Populists and Socialists in local and regional elections for years to come.

 

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