Southeast Chicago SOAR Chapter 31-9 Commemorates 84th Anniversary of Memorial Day Massacre

Despite the pandemic, Southeast Chicago SOAR Chapter 31-9 safely gathered to commemorate the 84th anniversary of the Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel.

Chapter 31-9 held a live-streamed outdoor gathering and a rose-laying ceremony at the memorial site.

Pictured: USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap and SOAR VICE President Scott Marshall

Dr. Rev. Zaki L. Zaki, Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Church, kicked off the event with the invocation. He said, “The ten who were killed on Memorial Day, 1937, did not die in vain.” He commended members of SOAR and praised the leadership of Ed Sadlowski, deceased leader of USW District 7, for keeping the memory of the martyrs alive.

Rev. Zaki was followed by Bill Alexander, President of Southeast Chicago SOAR, who welcomed all and gave a brief overview of the demands of the steelworkers in 1937. Alexander explained that the Wagner Act of 1935 gave workers the right to organize unions but did not force employers to sign a first contract. He also exaplined that The PRO act, a pro-worker piece of legislation awaiting a vote in the Senate, goes further than the Wagner Act and provides for arbitration, if needed, to guarantee a first contract after a year of negotiations.

Sue Sadlowski Garza, Alderwoman of the 10th Ward, and daughter of Ed Sadlowski, said that in the 10th Ward, people remember the 1937 fight for workers’ rights. She described that fight in detail and pledged never to forget the martyrs in the cause of union rights.

Next, the Women of Steel, the women’s caucus of United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO, gave a dramatic presentation that highlighted the Martyrs’ sacrifice. Each woman, dressed in black, called out the name of each Martyr. They told how each was killed, in most cases by a bullet in the back. In an impressive ceremony, Women of Steel draped each cross in black, ten in all.

Then Donald Davis, history teacher at Washington H.S. and Chicago Teachers Union activist, read from the two winners of the student essay contest sponsored by SOAR. The essay contest was about the Memorial Day Massacre and its relevance today in the fight for the PRO Act, the Protect the Right to Organize Act. Winners of the SOAR scholarship were Brianna Costillo and Alejandro Rojas.

The last speaker was Bea Lumpkin, 102-year old retiree leader and a CIO organizer in 1937. She demanded answers to “Who was punished, who went to jail for these murders?” Lumpkin replied, “Nobody!”

Placing roses on the monument to the martyrs was the final ceremony.

As they walked to the monument across the street, all sang labor’s song, Solidarity, led by Mike Wolfe, the SOAR chapter Financial Secretary. Everyone placed a rose on the monument, inspired by those who gave their lives fighting for a Union and better conditions for workers and their families.

New video tells the story of the deadly attacks on workers in 1937

Chapter 31-9 also commemorated the 84th anniversary of the Memorial Day Massacre by publishing a new video that outlines the events of that day at Republic Steel, and other attacks on workers in the steel industry across the country at that time.

Watch the video and read a short description below.

It began peacefully with the winning of a union contract between SWOC, Steel Workers Organizing Committee-CIO, and US Steel in March, 1937. Victories included the 8-hour day with time-and-a-half for overtime and the 40-hour week. But the basic victory was union recognition and the respect that a union brings.

Workers at Republic Steel and other companies had also joined SWOC. But the smaller steel companies (Little Steel) refused to sign a contract, forcing 80,000 to strike for union recognition on May 26, 1937.  Republic Steel in Chicago was especially brutal. In Chicago, Republic Steel Company housed and fed 270 uniformed Chicago City Police in the mill, even issued them tear gas and lethal weapons. This police army forcibly broke up peaceful mass picketing the first day of the strike. 

Four days later, Memorial Day, 1937, 1500 strikers, family members and friends, rallied on the prairie next to Republic Steel. There was a picnic atmosphere with good weather and children having fun. About 1000 joined the walk to peacefully mass picket. When 200 uniformed police stopped them, strikers told police that they had a legal right to picket. As they were talking, police shots rang out, mowing down unarmed strikers who were running away from the massive shooting and merciless clubbing. Four died on that killing field. Six more died soon after from a total lack, of or too-long-delayed medical treatment. At least two children were among the over 100 wounded. 

Just the day before the Chicago Massacre, in the Akron, Ohio Little Steel Strike, two had been killed in what became known as “The Women’s Day Massacre”. So vicious were the Little Steel employers that four additional strikers were killed during this strike, elsewhere in Ohio.

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