Monday, April 17, 2017 8:45 AM
Workers Did Not Always Have It As Easy As We Do Today
Workers in the American steel industry, one of the most dangerous in the world, had attempted to organize in 1919. Their efforts were crushed by a combination of red-baiting, immigrant bashing, corporate intransigence, and frequent violence by private and public police forces. During the 1930’s, steel workers began to reorganize in a political environment that was more favorable. Much of the public’s attention was focused on the unionization of “Big Steel” companies like U.S. Steel and Jones & Laughlin. After the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Wagner Act (which established collective bargaining and the right to organize), “Big Steel” decided it was in their interests to accept unionization: the Steel Workers Organizing Committee quickly negotiated over 100 contracts covering about 300,00 workers.
But the struggle was not over. There were a number of “Little Steel” companies, like Republic, that continued to combat organization with what a government agency later called “systematic terror.” In the Spring of 1937, Republic and other Little Steel companies, sensing what they interpreted as a backlash against successful unionization, precipitated a strike by adamantly refusing to negotiate. Republic Steel was well prepared: its private police department of over 370 men was supplied with hundreds of pistols, rifles, shotguns, clubs, and even gas grenades. When workers protested, the companies enlisted the support of local police by claiming threats to “law and order.” On Memorial Day, 1937, in South Chicago, a crowd of Republic Steel strikers gathered in peaceful protest. There were many women and children supporters among the mostly male strikers. As a mass of Chicago police confronted the protesters, tension escalated. It broke when the police suddenly charged the crowd, firing their weapons freely and lobbing gas grenades as they advanced. Ten protesters were killed, and perhaps as many as fifty were wounded. The Chicago police, in alliance with Republic Steel, had committed what has ever since been called “The Memorial Day Massacre.”
It’s essential that you treat this May Day as NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL and use the day to celebrate and highlight the struggles of workers who made huge sacrifices over the last 150 years to provide you with the working conditions and benefits you currently enjoy. Please make a commitment to participate in our May Day events. Click here if we can count on your support on May 1st!
Thank you in advance for your participation in this important event, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any question or concerns.
Jim Mahler, President
AFT Guild, Local 1931