United States Steel strike, South Chicago. 1959.
Like a lot of labor union history, Labor Day has its roots in Chicago.
Pullman workers started their strike in May 1894. The following month, Congress passed legislation making the first Monday of September a day to recognize workers. (Such a holiday had already been a demand of the labor movement, though commentators have described the Labor Day legislation as an attempt to “appease” angry workers.)
In July, President Grover Cleveland sent federal troops to Chicago to crush the strike. Illinois Gov. John Altgeld (D) resented the president’s decision, as there had not yet been any large-scale rioting. “I protest against this uncalled for reflection upon our people, and again ask the immediate withdrawal of these troops,” Altgeld wrote to the president.
Within a day of the troops’ arrival, mobs started tipping railroad cars and setting them on fire. Troops cracked down with bayonets and bullets; the rioting and property destruction worsened. Dozens of people ultimately died in Chicago and elsewhere. The government restored order by the fall, and American Railway Union leader Eugene Debs was eventually convicted of defying a court order and sent to prison.
It seems right that today Anne and I will take the drive to the 10th Ward on the far south side.
Because if we are going to march in the 10th Ward Labor Day Parade and you don’t already live in the 10th Ward, you have to drive to 104th and South Ewing and then march to 112th and Eggers Grove.
We step off at 12:30 today.
The old Pullman factory – now gone – is not in the 10th Ward, but it is close.
The 10th Ward is where the heart of the steel industry once was. It is gone too, part of the de-industrialization of Chicago. Steel is still made, of course. It is just made somewhere else.
Back in the day I worked at U.S. Steel in the 10th Ward.
So, it always feels like I’m coming home.