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Memorial Day Massacre


MEMORIAL DAY MASSACRE (1937). In the spring of 1937 the Steel Workers' Organizing Committee (SWOC), the first mass recruitment project of the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), called its first nationwide strike. Just a few months earlier, on 1 March, the SWOC had signed a contract with the largest steel corporation in the world, U.S. Steel, and was confident that the smaller remaining companies, collectively known as "Little Steel, " could be brought to similar terms. On 26 May 1937 the SWOC called out over eighty-five thousand workers in three companies: Republic, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and Inland Steel. Republic's South Chicago facility was one of the few plants that remained in operation during the strike. About half the workers stayed on the job, and Republic housed them on the mill grounds.

From the beginning Chicago police aggressively disrupted picket lines and arrested strike leaders. Strike leaders called for a mass demonstration to protest police brutality and partiality in the strike. Police officials reinforced their numbers to over 250 around the plant in anticipation of the march that was scheduled for Memorial Day, 30 May 1937.

Memorial Day dawned bright and hot, and by mid-afternoon the crowd of strikers and supporters, numbering well over a thousand, marched behind two American flags toward the factory gates chanting "CIO, CIO." When the marchers drew up along the line of police, a tense standoff ensued. The police ordered the crowd to disperse, and the marchers argued for their right to peacefully assemble. Sticks and stones began to fly, and police responded with tear gas. Without warning, police began firing wildly into the crowd. A hundred marchers fell. Ten eventually perished, all of them shot facing away from the police.

Later investigations by Robert La Follette Jr.'s Senate Civil Liberties Committee, dramatically punctuated with a graphic Paramount newsreel that authorities had suppressed, attributed little provocation to the marchers and found that police had wantonly attacked them. Nevertheless the police and corporate intimidation caused the strike to collapse. None of the three "Little Steel" companies recognized the unions of their workers until forced to do so by the federal government under the emergency powers it assumed in World War II.


Clark, Paul F., Peter Gottlieb, and Donald Kennedy. Forging a Union of Steel: Philip Murray, SWOC, and the United Steel Workers. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1987.

Leab, Daniel J. "The Memorial Day Massacre." Midcontinent American Studies Journal 8, no. 2 (1967): 3–15.

U.S. Senate. Committee on Education and Labor. Violations of Free Speech and Rights of Labor: The Chicago Memorial Day Incident. 75th Cong., 1st sess. Report no. 46 (2), 1937.


See alsoAmerican Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations ; Steel Strikes ; Strikes ; Violence .

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