Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day “Massacre” a bad memory of how ugly labor tensions once were, and don't need to go back to

Perhaps it’s all appropriate that this Memorial Day holiday weekend comes right as tensions between organized labor and Illinois’ new Republican governor have reached a height that we don’t have a clue when our state officials will be able to put together a balanced budget for Illinois government.

Police attack? Or self-defense? Photo provided by AFL-CIO
We have a governor who seems determined to undermine the influence of labor unions (even if he realizes that “right to work” legislation is mere fantasy) to the point that the Democratic majority in the General Assembly is digging in politically on so many

SO MANY POLITICAL hotheads. The only thing I feel safe in saying is that there won’t be a state budget enacted by the Legislature by the Sunday deadline.

But how hostile are our labor/management relations these days?

This seems like a time to remember the Memorial Day holiday of 1937. On that day some 78 years ago (the actual holiday that year came on May 30), labor/management relations reached a low point; one that we ought to feel fortunate we haven’t sunk to this far.

That was the day that labor union members picketed outside the Republic Steel plant that used to exist at 119th Street and Avenue O in the East Side neighborhood.

Who doubted this account 78 years ago?
REPUBLIC STEEL OFFICIALS were adamant about not letting their employees have labor union representation – even though U.S. Steel had given in.

When protesters refused the steel mill management’s orders to go away, they called the police. Who eventually opened fire, then chased away and beat many of the protesters. In all, 10 mill workers were killed and more than 60 people wound up in area hospitals.

If not for the 1968 police activity against protesters of the Democratic National Convention, we’d probably still be talking about this act of police brutality every time a cop does something silly.

Does this poster pay tribute to workers? Or subversives?
It’s fortunate that the Illinois Labor History Society has managed to get ahold of and preserve the newsreel footage that was shot that day. Or else some of us might be inclined to believe the management line that claimed the union-sympathizing protesters were attacking the police – who were merely trying to defend themselves from an unruly mob!

BECAUSE MANAGEMENT WAS merely trying to protect their ability to make the highest profit possible – and ought to be entitled to think of anything that cuts into their bottom line as something subversive that needs to be eradicated.

Some of the nonsense rhetoric we hear these days bears a resemblance to the anti-labor rhetoric of old. It would be overly simplistic to say that nothing has really changed, and that this is merely management trying to get government to give back its old authority over its workers.

Although I’m honest enough to concede that it is highly unlikely that Gov. Bruce Rauner has the Illinois State Police all lined up and prepared to attack anybody who speaks out against his negative labor union talk.

Even though I’m sure there are some ideologue-types who fantasize about such actions, wishing they could “get medieval” on all that organized labor talk.

I SAY THAT because I have noticed in the past how people try to discount the violent activity of that “Memorial Day Massacre” whenever the local neighborhood residents hold their annual service to pay tribute to those workers who were killed.

I have covered the East Side event a couple of times as a reporter-type person (although I didn’t go to this year’s event held two weeks ago), and people from outside the neighborhood always want to think there was something subversive at work on that day.

His poor play that day caused the 'massacre'
Instead of accepting the fact that these were neighborhood residents whose bottom line was to work at their jobs to try to earn a living! Anybody who finds that to be subversive is really ever-so-un-American themselves; and definitely not espousing ideals that those soldiers who made the "ultimate sacrifice" actually fought and died for.
Either that, or they’re clueless enough to think that “Memorial Day Massacre” merely means Game One of the 1985 NBA Championship Series when the Boston Celtics beat the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers 148-114.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hilding Anderson, Alfred Causey, Leo Francisco, Earl Handley, Otis Jones, Sam Popovich, Kenneth Reed, Joseph Rothmund, Anthony Taglioni and Lee Tisdale. Working stiffs, or criminals? Depends on who you talk to.

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