Chicago is no stranger to labor disputes. In fact labor is one of the reasons that a traditionally Republican establishment turned Democratic toward the end of the 19th century and never looked back.
While many history buffs are familiar with the Haymarket Riot or Haymarket Affair as it is sometimes called, many are not familiar with what has become known as the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937.
On May 26, 1937, 22,000 Chicago steel workers went on strike. The larger steel companies such as U.S. Steel had entered into an agreement with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (S.W.O.C.) an affiliate of the (C.I.O.) Committee for Industrial Organization while the smaller companies including Republic Steel had not.
Striking workers were none too happy with the loyal or (scab) employees that helped Republic to keep its operations going during the strike. A number of small skirmishes erupted between May 26th and May 30th but it was the skirmish on the 30th (Memorial Day) that would be remembered as being the most deadly.
There was a short meeting held by labor organizers at Sam’s Roadhouse which was not far from the Republic Steel plant in South Chicago. During the meeting striking employees and picketers, many of whom weren’t even steel company employees, were purportedly told that they had the legal right to bypass the 150 Chicago Police Officers who were stationed at the gates of the Republic Steel plant to protect the company’s property rights.
1,500 to 2,000 individuals armed with clubs, rubber hoses filled with lead, bats with nails, knives, metal bolts to be used as missiles and purportedly some firearms marched toward the gates at 4:30 pm on Sunday May 30, 1937.
What happened next to spur on the violence is a subject of debate even today. Both sides agree that the police told the approaching mob that they could not be there and that they needed to disperse even though Mayor Kelly had stated that peaceful picketing would be allowed. The question is did they intend from the outset to be peaceful.
A number of witnesses stated that gunshots could be heard coming from the huge group of protestors and Chicago Police immediately answered with tear gas, gun fire and clubs.
By the time it was over there would be ten individuals who would die from their injuries (mostly gunshot wounds) and over 90 injured including 23 police officers.
The list of the dead are as follows:
Anthony Tagliore, 26, 7413 St. Lawrence Ave Chicago, gunshot wound
Earl Hanley, 37, 3307 Michigan Ave. Indiana Harbor, East Chicago, IN, fractured skull
Joseph Rothmund, 47, 2857 Belmont Ave. Chicago, gunshot wound
Alfred Causey, 43, 7050 Arizona Ave., Chicago, gunshot wound
Kenneth Reed, 23, 3921 Deal St. Indiana Harbor, IN, gunshot wound
Samuel Popovich, 45, crushed skull
Hilding Anderson, 38, gunshot wound
Otis Jones, Lincoln, IL, gunshot wound
Lee Tisdale, 50, infection
Leo Francisco, 17, 10012 Commercial Ave. Chicago, IL, gunshot wound
Was this a case of police brutality and overreaction or was this a case of trained, armed, militant, communists trying to put a stranglehold on American capitalism?
65 rioters were eventually charged with minor crimes and $1 fines, The police were found by the Cook County Coroner’s Jury as having committed “justifiable homicide”.
I will be discussing the details of that day as well as different points of view on the Internet radio show: Travis and Vics Drunken Horror Adventures at 8pm Central Time tonight on the 79th Anniversary of this violent chapter in Chicago history.
You can listen live at
You can also call in at (310) 634-1923 to join in on the conversation.
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