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pnorman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-30-05 05:57 PM
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Memorial Day Massacre of 1937
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Below are a string of posting I made on my union BBS today:

Memorial Day Massacre of 1937

Ten demonstrators were killed by police bullets during the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937. When several smaller steelmakers, including Republic Steel, refused to follow the lead of U.S. Steel (Big Steel) by signing a union contract, a strike was called by the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

As a show of support, hundreds of SWOC sympathizers from all around Chicago gathered on Memorial Day at Sam's Place, where the SWOC had its strike headquarters. After a round of speeches, the crowd began a march across the prairie and toward the Republic Steel mill. They were stopped midway by a formation of Chicago police. While demonstrators in front were arguing for their right to proceed, police fired into the crowd and pursued the people as they fled. Mollie West, a Typographical Union Local 16 member and a youthful demonstrator at the time, still recalls the command addressed to her: "Get off the field, or I'll put a bullet in your back."


The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937

Standing by to capture and record the carnage for the first time in the history of American labor was Orlando Lippert, a Paramount Newsreel cameraman. He was parked less than 50 feet from the center of the police line. The film was so explosive that Paramount refused to show it, On the grounds that such a unrelieved record of blood and brutality was liable to touch off more riots. It is interesting to note that while the film was being censored in a nation that guarantees freedom of speech and press, it was being viewed in British cinemas.

Reporter Paul Anderson wrote the following description of the Paramount film for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June 1937:

Those of us who saw it were shocked and amazed by the scenes showing scores of uniformed police firing their revolvers pointblank into a dense crowd of men, women, and children, and then pursuing and clubbing the survivors unmercifully as they made frantic efforts to escape.

The impression produced by the fearful scenes was heightened by the sound record which accompanies the picture, reproducing the roar of the police fire and the screams of the victims

A vivid closeup shows the head of the parade being halted at the police line. The flag bearers are in front. Behind them the placards are massed. They bear such devices as Come on out, Help win the strike, Republic vs. the People, and CIO

Then suddenly, without warning, there is a terrific roar of pistol shots, and the men in the front ranks of the marchers go down like grass before the scythe. The camera catches approximately a dozen falling simultaneously in a heap. The massive sustained roar of the pistol shots last perhaps two to three seconds.

In a manner which is appallingly business-like, groups of policemen close in on isolated individuals. They go to work on them with their clubs. In several instances two to four policemen were seen beating on one man.

More from that Carpenter's Union website:
The Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago was just one chapter in the unfolding drama of the Little Steel Strike in which strikers were beaten, killed, or arrested throughout the steel-producing towns of the Midwest. Throughout the strike the Steel Workers put up a great struggle against overwhelming odds. The steel companies and their big business supporters on the local and state level, the Citizens Alliances, the back-to-work groups, the police, sheriffs department, state police, and the National Guard all used their power to break the strike.

During the strike, besides the 10 massacred in Chicago, eight more strikers were killed, and over 200 wounded or severely beaten. In Monroe, Michigan, the steel workers organizing headquarters was burned down, and hundreds of strikers arrested.

In June 1937, U.S. Senator Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin held an open hearing before his Civil Liberties Committee on the Memorial Day Massacre. He and the committee viewed the Paramount film several times, and took testimony from the Chicago Police, the mayor, and victims. The committee concluded the following:

1. The police had no authority to limit the number of pickets. The police argument that the marchers intended to storm Republics plant was groundless.

2. Even if the police were justified in halting the marchers, proper police work clearly required preparation.

3. We find the provocation for the police assault did not go beyond abusive language and the throwing of isolated missiles. From all evidence, we think it plain the force employed by the police was far in excess of that which the occasion required.

4. Treatment of the injured was characterized by the most callous indifference to human life and suffering. Wounded prisoners of war might have expected and received greater solicitude.

Time magazine of Aug. 2, 1937 reported that Chicago officialdom was hopping mad when the LaFollette finding was released. At that time Chicago was preparing to prosecute 65 strikers and sympathizers for conspiracy to riot. Prior to the Lafollette committees conclusion, a coroners jury composed of six unemployed American Legionnaires concluded that the massacre at Republics Chicago steel plant was justifiable homicide. Take note that throughout this nation in the early 1900s the American Legion served foremost in breaking strikes, organizing back-to-work movements, vigilante attacks on strikers, and the lynching of union organizers.


The Women's Day Massacre

Despite the extreme rhetorical battles between the SWOC leadership and Little Steel management, the strike in Ohio remained remarkably uneventful. In fact, to relieve the monotony of picket duty and demonstrate the continued support of the steelworkers' wives for the union, SWOC's women's auxiliary in Youngstown organized a "Women's Day" on the picket line. The event was not unusual in the steel communities, but marked a significant change from the past steel-union practice of hiring women. At least part of the reason for this change in attitude was a product of the defeat of the 1919 national steel strike. In that strike, management had some success in appealing to steelworkers' wives to put pressure on their husbands to return to work. This time around, veteran steel unionists wanted to preempt any management sponsored back-to-work movement among steelworkers' wives.

However, SWOC's progressive attitude toward women did not sit well with Charley Richmond, a hard-nosed Youngstown city police captain who took command of that afternoon's picket detail. One SWOC member later recalled that shortly after coming on duty, Richmond stormed into SWOC's Republic office demanding, "I want them women off that picket line down there."' Unable to locate any union leaders, Richmond returned to the mill gate with a small contingent of police and ordered the women pickets to stop sitting on chairs and start moving in a circle. Richmond apparently peppered his command with comments to the effect that the picket tine was no place for women and that they should stay home where they belonged. Richmond's attitude did not go over well with the women pickets, who began arguing with the police captain. Richmond later claimed that the women refused to move and began "cursing at me, spitting at me, and screaming at me in their foreign tongue." In response, the police captain took the dangerous action of using tear gas on the pickets, including children, and at least one infant in his mother's arms. As the gas grenades exploded, the crowd of pickets scattered to escape the fumes.
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