[The last Monday in May is celebrated to commemorate those who died in war. What most Americans overlook is that for the working class Memorial Day has a special significance. It commemorates the battle against “Little Steel,” in which Chicago police killed 10 workers at Republic Steel. Here is the brief account and a link to a more complete one, from the Illinois Labor History Association:]
Ten demonstrators were killed by police bullets during the “Little Steel Strike” of 1937. When several smaller steelmakers, including Republic Steel,
refused to follow the lead of U.S. Steel (Big Steel) by signing a union contract, a strike was called by the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
As a show of support, hundreds of SWOC sympathizers from all around Chicago gathered on Memorial Day at Sam’s Place, where the SWOC had its strike headquarters. After a round of speeches, the crowd began a march across the prairie and toward the Republic Steel mill. They were stopped midway by a formation of Chicago police. While demonstrators in front were arguing for their right to proceed, police fired into the crowd and pursued the people as they fled. Mollie West, a Typographical Union Local 16 member and a youthful demonstrator at the time, still recalls the command addressed to her: “Get off the field, or I’ll put a bullet in your back.”
Here is the article by William Bork that gives the background information on this strike and massacre:
Massacre at Republic Steel
by William Bork
The 1930’s was a period of great economic hardship for the American people, a period of upheaval in the social and political structure. Streets were filled with hungry people waiting in breadlines. During the Great Depression, workers also walked the picket lines demanding their rights under laws passed during the New Deal.
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), passed in 1933, contained a section guaranteeing to workers a right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. Several large and sometimes violent strikes occurred in 1934 involving unions struggling for recognition as collective bargaining agent under the NIRA. Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco were scenes of three of the best known strikes.
The level of strike activity was the highest in American history. Between May, 1933 and July, 1937, 10,000 strikes took place involving some 5,600,000 workers. It was a period of bitter conflict between Capital and Labor.
In May 1935, the NIRA was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Its labor provisions, however, were replaced on July 5, 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act, popularly referred to as the Wagner Act. Click here to read the entire article.
To get to the site of the 1937 battle, you can follow these directions, also from the ILHS site:
By automobile, from the Chicago Loop to the former USWA local 1033 headquaters at 11731 Ave. O, take I-90/94 (Dan Ryan Expy) South and merge with the I-94 (Bishop Ford Fwy). Then, exit at 103rd .St and turn East to Torrence. Ave, and turn South to 106.St and turn East to Ave. O. Then, drive South to 117th .St and stop at 11731 Ave O, enter the parking lot. Memorial sculpture is to the North at 117TH. St by the fire station (this was dedicated in 2008).
From here you can reach the Pullman community in ten minutes. Backtrack to 103rd and Torrence. Ave and trun West on 103rd. Then, turn South on Cottage Grove. Ave and 111.St, the Florence Hotel is in site to the East.