An Illustrated History of American Labor #1

Five policemen remove a wounded man from the South Chicago plant of Republic
Steel; scene of a vicious battle between workers (four killed; nearly one hundred
injured), local police and hired vigilantes (1937)


Jon said...

I'm pretty sure this picture comes from the Republic Steel Massacre. The massacre did not take place during a strike. It happened when Chicago Police opened fire on a CIO picnic in a park on the south side. The picnic was held as a rally and get together in support of the organizing drive at Republic steel. The attack was unprovoked. Most of the victims were sitting on the ground when police surrounded them and began firning into the crowd with automatic weapons.

As a young man, I was an apprentice at US Steel's Southworks (long since closed). I worked with an old timer who was a survivor of the massacre. He was standing next to one of the people who was fatally shot. He was splattered with the man's blood. He didn't have much good to say about the Chicago cops or the steel companies.

Thanks for this and all of the other great images you publish.

Tom Sutpen said...

Thanks for this comment (and the kind words).It is from the Republic Steel massacre, but I'd always been under the impression . . . now corrected . . . that the rally/picnic was in support of a strike; which only makes the police assault even more wanton than it was (as if that were possible). I understand the police were being used to implement the class interests of owners, but did they have to carry it out with such deadly zeal? Long as I live, I'll never be able to wrap my mind around that completely.

Thankye again.

Vanwall said...

Actually, there was a strike ongoing at that time against the "Little Steel" group of smaller mills, including Republic Steel - extremely reactionary ownership and police complicity left nine or ten dead after the Massacre - four were killed outright and at least five others died of wounds, to say nothing of the women and children beaten and wounded. The strike was an integral part of the situation, but a general lock-out by some of mills was, too - they were out to break the union.

Film was suppressed, newspaper reports slanted, and generally reports showed a sadistic glee over the results, until an investigation by Congress and others brought out the facts. Not that this was disseminated well, hell, the papers had their own unions to suppress.

I grew up in a miners state, and there was plenty of violence there during the first part of the last century. It was a big deal during my college years that much of the suppressed info about those days was being taught in classes - there had been a concerted effort to bury such during the Fabulous Fifties. Labor relations history was getting renewed emphasis those days, and it was eye-opening for me.

I couldn't understand the levels of violence used against the unions, under the cover of keepin' out the socialists and commies, and extensive reading brought to mind how well the hard-right industrialists would've fit in with the Nazis if left unchecked during those days. Oh, wait, that's right - they still hate and fear unions and social responsibility, and use the press to skew their way. Bummer.

Jon said...

I'm probably wrong about the strike part. I just wanted to point out that the cops were not just firing on a crowd of strikers. (As if that were excusable) They were firing on a picnic. I've read some press accounts of the massacre. The general line was that the picnickers had to be fired on because they were a hyped up mindless mass who could have become dangerous had their red masters ordered them to attack.

Vanwall said...

I agree, Jon, it was a coldly calculated attack on un-armed citizens - some whole families had come out to show support for the union and their men, only to be shot up and brutalized, as the mills intended. This was a salient chapter in my college class lectures, which is why I remembered the strike aspect - after the Chicago Democratic Convention debacle and the various riots from the late sixties, it seemed like the Haymarket and the Massacre periods all over again.

I happened to be at Disneyland in the '60s on the day they closed early because the Yippies were there, and altho it seemed like a lark at the time, I did feel the fear and confusion of a crowd as everyone was herded out the front gate, with plenty of screw-you-jack looks from the riot cops lined down Main Street - it was almost surreal, but I now realize how ugly it could've gotten. Once again, the local constabulary was ready well beforehand and waiting to do a company's bidding; there was a lot of potentially lethal hardware walking around The Happiest Place on Earth that day.

Tom Sutpen said...

I looked up the Republic Steel incident in '37, and it urns out it was an assault on a picnic, in the midst of a strike (amazing, isn't it, how they always swoop down in full force when wives and children were gathered). I rememeber years ago seeing the footage taken that day: A gazillion cops and lots of evil-looking plain-clothes sumbitches wielding clubs, breaking heads.

Of course, that was the golden age of strike-breaking. Now they do it more scientifically.

And while I agree about the Robber Barons of old, if you recall the NAFTA debate from 1993, you'll remember that some of the most strident anti-labor pronouncements came from so-called Liberals. It's depressing to ponder, but true nonetheless. The Rockefeller or Carnegie of yesteryear has a very eerie analog in today's socially-conscious, fiscally-prudent CEO; the very people the Democratic Party (which once claimed to represent the interests of working people . . . though that was always a little bit dubious) is currently selling its soul to in return for more campaign dollars than there are in heaven.

They are not a friend to Labor.

Jon said...

You got that right.