Archive ID: 1981-077-079f

First picket line at Republic Steel gate

Date Created: 1937-05-30

Donor: Edward Sadlowski

Media Type: Photograph

Language: English


This photo depicts the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 in which ten strikers were killed by Chicago city police and nearly 100 people wounded. After the passing of the 1935 Wagner Act, steelworkers sought to unionize. Although US Steel agreed to recognize independent unions, so-called “Little Steel” companies, including Republic Steel, refused. In response, Little Steel workers struck nationally for the right to organize. On the days preceding the Memorial Day Massacre, strikers at Chicago’s Republic Steel mill attempted to set up mass picket lines, noting that Chicago’s mayor had stated that picketing was legal. Instead, police attacked and arrested picketers, eventually allowing a mere handful. In protest, strikers called for a rally on Memorial Day to support their right to picket without molestation. Sympathy strikers from neighboring Indiana and other Southeast Chicago steel mills came out in support, as well as family members, neighbors, and individuals from other parts of Chicago. A crowd of 1500 eventually formed in what many described as a “jovial” holiday atmosphere with sizeable numbers of women and children in attendance.

The violence began when the crowd moved to picket in front of the mill and were confronted by police. Police shot directly into the crowd and beat panicked and fleeing protestors with nightsticks. They also threw tear gas and used non-regulation clubs provided by Republic Steel. Police later claimed, without evidence, that “communists” intended to storm and take over the steel mill. After the Massacre, no attempt was made to offer first aid to victims. Many were thrown into over-crowded paddy wagons that then delayed taking the wounded to hospitals. This event would be one of the most deadly in US labor history. Detailed accounts can be found in testimony given to the LaFollette Commission appointed by the U.S. Congress. This image is from a panel display created by union member George Powers for Local 1033 to depict its own history.

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Historic Events   Local 1033 (Republic)   Memorial Day Massacre   Mills   Republic   Steel Industry   Strikes   Unions   1920-1939 (Depression Era)   East Side   Other/Unknown   Photograph   Flags   Hats   Labor   LTV Steel   Picketing   Police   Protests   Republic Steel   Steelworkers   Uniforms   Weapons  

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The Memorial Day Massacre

A story told through Museum objects saved by Southeast Chicago residents

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