by Stewart Acuff
Tomorrow I will speak at a rally in Chicago to commemorate the Republic Steel Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 when 10 striking members of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) were shot down by the Chicago Police Department, because they were on strike for the 8 hour day and the right to organize a union. They were murdered for striking for an 8 hour day and the right to organize a union.
Workers were organizing and striking all over industrial America. The National Labor Relations Act had been passed, but it had yet to be upheld by the Supreme Court. The CIO and the autoworkers had begun sit-down strikes in plant after plant. Unprovoked beatings and killings were common. Workers and unions were still suffering the bloodiest labor history in the western world. Police forces and the National Guard had been routinely used to bust heads, break organizing efforts, and break strikes. The United Steelworkers were not yet a fully formed union. SWOC had begun the Little Steel strike to win contracts at the second tier of steel companies. The modern American labor movement was being birthed and it was a very tough delivery.
It was in that context that workers went on strike at Republic Steel and the massacre occurred.
It wasn’t the first massacre of workers and it wasn’t the last. We have not yet seen the last massacre of workers in struggle in America.
Most of the strikes and brutal repression of workers from the 1870s to 1940 were over two main issues – the freedom to organize unions and the right to an 8 hour day. As workers and union leaders said, we are not animals. We are human beings and we need enough time off to be parents, to read, to be human beings.
Last week Republicans in Congress introduced legislation to destroy the 8 hour day. Let that sink in.
Stewart Acuff served as director of organizing for the AFL-CIO. He has been a community organizer and union organizer for 25 years and is a member of the National Steering Committee of Jobs with Justice.
Image Source: Photo by Judy Seidman of League for Industrial Democracy, Poster by Anita Willcox (1932) via Wikimedia Commons