Chicago Tribune, May 31, 1937
Steel strike rioters, attempting to invade the Republic Steel corporation’s plant in South Chicago, precipitated a bloody battle yesterday when they hooted down the warning of Chicago policemen that the company’s property would be protected.
Four men were killed and 90 persons were sent to hospitals with gunshot wounds, cracked heads, broken limbs, or injuries caused by brickbats and steel riveting bolts. Thirty of the injured were victims of gunfire. Twenty-six of the injured were policemen. More than 1,000 rioters engaged in the battle.
Arms of Rioters.
The rioters were armed with clubs, slingshots and steel bolts, revolvers, cranks and gear shift levers from cars, bricks, and other missiles. After their repulse in the invasion, which began at 4 p.m., they tried to reassemble for another attack, but gave it up upon the arrival of police reinforcements.
The police stood their ground and made no effort to harm the attackers until pelted with brickbats and bolts. The police then defended themselves with tear gas. When the rioters resorted to firearms, the police said, they were forced to draw their revolvers to protect themselves. Even then, they first fired into the air as a final warning, according to James L. Mooney, supervising police captain.
Three Dead Unidentified.
At a late hour three of the dead were unidentified. This lent support to reports that outside agitators played a leading part in the raid on the mill. The three unidentified were shot to death. The fourth fatality, Earl Hanley, 37 years old, 3307 Michigan avenue, Indiana Harbor., East Chicago, died of a fractured skull. He was a carpenter for the Inland Steel company at Indiana Harbor.
Gov. Horner arrived from Springfield an hour after the battle and promptly went into conference at the Southmoor hotel with Adj. Gen. Carlos E. Black, Van A. Bittner, regional director of the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee for John L. Lewis’ Committee for Industrial Organization; Michael L. Igoe, United States attorney, and H. L. Hyman, manager of the steel company.
The answer to Capt. Kilroy’s warning was a shower of missiles from those who were hidden deep in the mob of strikers, and the battle was on. Pushed from behind, the rioters surged forward. Those in front, forced the battle by their less brave allies in the rear, took a terrific beating from the police. Police answered with tear gas and more gunfire. The tear gas was ineffectual and police clubs and gunfire turned the rioters back only after the loss of four lives.
Meet Again Tonight.
The governor adjourned the meeting until 7 p.m. tonight in the Congress Hotel pending an expression by the company on a suggestion that its employees vote to determine if they wish C.I.O. representation. The governor said he expects no more trouble, and it was learned that Bittmer had promised there would be no more demonstration today. The governor gave no hint of any plan to call out the militia.
It is the S.W.O.C. which ordered the strike last Wednesday that has thrown 70,000 steel workers out of work in five states—22,000 of them in the Chicago area. The strike was launched in plants of three big independent companies—the Inland, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and Republic companies—to force them to sign collective bargaining contracts with the C.I.O. union.
Joseph Weber, field representative of the S.W.O.C. and chairman of the meeting which preceded yesterday;s bloodshed, telephoned a report of the riot to Lewis.
Rioter Wounded in Leg
Police carry rioter off the field after he has been struck in the right leg by a bullet or some sharp missile. He was given hospital treatment for his wound, a serious one.
Several Women Injured.
Several women and boys were among the injured. Some of them were observers who had gone to the scene to see what would happen.
The injured were taken to hospitals on the south side. Thirty-six less seriously injured were arrested after being treated.
The riot developed at a strike meeting held to protest the action of police who turned them back Friday night when they first attempted to invade the Republic plant. Although five of the independent steel plants in the South Chicago-Calumet region have been closed the Republic plant continued to operate with 1,000 local employees spurning the strike call.
The strikers met yesterday outside a former dance hall known as Sam’s place, the union’s temporary headquarters at 113th street and Green Bay avenue.
Many of those present were from the East Chicago plants of the Inland Steel company and the Youngstown Sheet and Tube company. The men were told that the C.I.O. was “on the march” by Leo Krzycki and Nicholas Fontecchi, S.W.O.C. organizers.
Other agitators went among the strikers, convincing them that they were within their rights in invading the company’s property and that high government officials were on their side. Inland and Youngstown men were placed at the head of the mob to march on the plant.
The strike leaders, who were bossing preparations for the march, said they were going to close the plant and force the workers inside to join the strike.
Chanting “C.I.O.—C.I.O.” the inflamed mob began the march of three blocks to the plant’s main entrance at 113th street and Burley avenue. A block and a half from the entrance, on a prairie-like field 150 policemen were lined up under Capt. Mooney, Capt. Thomas Kilroy, and Lieut. Walter Healy. Capt. Kilroy stepped forward and advised them to come no further, as the police were under orders to protect the property.
“You can’t get through here,” he said, adding the warning, “We must do our duty.”
Hoodlum jeers greeted his words and volleys of bricks and stones, and bolts.
The police replied with tear gas. The rioters fell back for a moment, choking, and then, witnesses say, begin firing at the bluecoats. The police fired warning shots skyward but, when the rioters continued to fire, used their own guns in earnest.
Men began dropping on both sides. The rioters fell back before the police bullets and swinging police clubs. Policeman Peter Cleary, 58, of the Chicago Lawn station, saw a comrade beaten to the ground by one hoodlum, armed with a metal rod. The mobster was disarming the prostrate policeman when Cleary went to the rescue, but his glasses were shattered in his eyes by a blow from the rioter’s weapon.
Strike Riot Step By Step
Steel workers held meeting at C.I.O. headquarters ① at which plans for attack were made. Police stationed at three points ② heard of advance of strikers and armed forces ③. When strikers began throwing missiles police formed “pincers” line for resistance and forced rioters to retreat ④. The Republic Steel plant occupies the shaded area.
Harry Harper, 3110 West 89th street, lost an eye during the battle, Victor Anderson, 44 years old, 9919 Ewing avenue, who is not a steel worker but had accompanied the mob out of curiosity, fell wounded by a bullet.
A boy of 11, Nicholas Leurich of 10934 Avenue N, fell with a bullet around his ankle. A boy of 9, who identified himself only as James, was shot in the leg.
Three women were knocked down.
The battle was watched from the plant windows by the loyal workers.
Wives and sweethearts of many of them had rallied for a Sunday visit and had been permitted inside the gate just before the attack. They fled in terror.
Fifty yards from the battle, Mrs. Eva Phorie and her nine children watched the shooting from their house at 11635 Burley avenue. Mrs. Phorie’s husband, Ernest, was in the plant working.
John Prendergast, chief of the uniformed police, closed all roads leading to the plant late last night. Guards permitted only those with business in the district to pass.
Shortly afterward, the union pickets who have been patrolling the plant since the strike began last Wednesday were withdrawn. There was no explanation.
The Illinois State Communist committee issued a handbill early today defending the stand of the C.I.O.
Illinois Labor History
The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, Part 1
Illinois Labor History
The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, Part 2
Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1937
Chicago Tribune, May 28, 2016
The Republic Steel Strike
Carrying American flags and singing union songs, the marchers– men, women and a few youngsters–formed a long line as they crossed the grassy field.
Their destination was the main gate at Republic Steel’s South Chicago plant on the city’s Southeast Side, but facing them were about 150 Chicago police. It was a hot and sticky Memorial Day that soon would get even hotter.Beyond the police was the massive steel plant, the only one in the Chicago area that had stayed open during a bitter nationwide showdown between a number of steel companies and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, which was trying to unionize the plants.
A combative mood was in the air. The nascent steelworkers union was determined to win a contract. The owners were equally determined not to surrender to the union. Swinging riot clubs, the police had turned back another group of demonstrators two days earlier. Eighteen marchers had been injured.
This time, as about 200 of the marchers approached the police, angry words were exchanged. Rocks and bricks thrown by the strikers brought a flurry of tear gas from the police. Gunfire broke out, and the marchers scattered as the police charged into their line. By the time things calmed, 10 marchers lay dead. Forty police officers were injured. At least 60 marchers were hurt or wounded, some shot from behind. Police said they were fired upon by the strikers, but hospital reports showed no gun wounds among the police.
In the aftermath, charges and counter-charges flew. Police said the march had been well-orchestrated. The demonstrators said they had acted spontaneously, stirred by anger over the number of people hurt by police during the prior confrontation. City and police officials denied charges of police brutality and blamed the whole incident on communists and radicals.
A Paramount photographer captured some of the mayhem, but the company refused to release the newsreel, saying it might incite audiences to riot. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an account of someone who had seen the suppressed film, describing the police firing on the marchers without warning and beating up the marchers in a “businesslike” way. A congressional investigation later condemned the police for using excessive force.
Shortly after Memorial Day, the strike folded as workers streamed back to their jobs in Chicago and elsewhere. Ultimately, however, the union won its contract. But in all of the nation’s labor wars, the few minutes of strife in front of a Chicago steel mill rank among the bloodiest.
Memorial Day was honored on May 30th between the years 1868 to 1970.