May 30, 1937: Memorial Day Massacre

Memorial Day Massacre

Policemen armed with billy clubs, revolvers, and tear gas charge an unarmed crowd of several hundred striking steelworkers and their families. Photo: Illinois Historical Society.

It was a day for parades, picnics and boat-rides–and tear gas, bullets and death

By Howard Fast

“Memorial Day in Chicago in 1937 was hot, humid, and sunny; it was the right kind of day for the parade and the holiday, the kind of a day that takes the soreness out of a Civil War veteran’s back, makes him feel like stepping out with the youngsters a quarter his age. It was a day for picnics, for boating, for the beach or a long ride into the country. . . Most of the strikers felt good. Tom Girdler, who ran Republic, had said that he would go back to hoeing potatoes before he met the strikers’ demands, and word went around that old Tom could do worse than earn an honest living hoeing potatoes. The strike was less than a week old; the strikers had not yet felt the pinch of hunger, and there was a good sense of solidarity everywhere. Because it was such a fine summer day, many of the strikers brought their children out onto the prairie to attend the first big mass meeting; and wherever you looked, you saw two-year-olds and three-year-olds riding pick-a-back on the shoulders of steelworkers.”

Continue reading Fast’s full essay.

The police brutality was captured on film and is described in a Truthout article. Actual footage is also available.

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There are 2 comments by other visitors:

  • Wow, powerful! I live in Everett, WA, and the account reminds me of a similar Labor massacre that occurred here around that same time, leaving twelve dead. Thanks for the information.

    Response shared by Larry Stonebrink — May 31, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

  • Thank you for writing and posting this description of the Memorial Day Massacre. My dad, John T. (Jack) Winters was union organizer and President of the first union at Republic Steel. He was beaten up by Pinkerton men at the massacre, and my uncle, Charles (Chuck) D. Winters (later President of the New Orleans Teamster’s Local) took a bullet in his hat. They were striking for the 5 dollar DAY. For many years my family went to the site of the massacre on Memorial Day. My father mourned the men who were killed until the day he died. Thank you for remembering the working people who fought and sacrificed for economic justice and workplace safety.

    Response shared by Carol Winters Wish — May 30, 2016 @ 4:24 pm

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