CHICAGO | It has been nearly 76 years since Memorial Day 1937, when Chicago police officers attacked steel workers picketing outside the now-shuttered Republic Steel plant, killing 10 and injuring hundreds of others.
But organizers of an annual tribute held in the East Side neighborhood said Saturday there needs to be an emphasis on finding new people who can take over the event to ensure that it continues for many decades to come.
More than 100 people gathered Saturday at Washington High School, 3535 E. 114th St. – within sight of the old Republic Steel plant – for a solemn service that United Steelworkers of America District 7 Director Jim Robinson said he wants to see continue long into the future.
“A lot of people have turned out over the years to keep this commemoration going. I can’t envision a year in this community without it,” said Robinson. “But we’re getting older. We’re going to need new people, new blood.
“We need to find those people so we can pass on the torch and keep this tribute going,” he said.
Saturday's service included speeches by several members of the United Steelworkers of America, the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees and the AFL-CIO. There also was a tribute to the 10 men, ages 29 and 50, who worked at steel mills across the Southeast Side and in Northwest Indiana, who were shot or beaten to death by police on May 30, 1937.
The tribute included bagpipe music by the Michigan City-based Pipes and Drums of Orak, and a presentation of 10 women clad in black and laying veils at crosses for each of the 10 union members — while Kathleen Peeples sang a poem that told their story, then did a rendition of the gospel tune “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The Rev. Leonard Dubi, pastor emeritus at St. Victor Parish in Calumet City, said he felt compelled to attend the tribute and lead a march to a memorial to the 10 deceased union members erected across the street from the old steel mill.
“I’m the son of a steelworker who taught me that unions make us all strong,” Dubi said.
The Rev. Zaki L. Zaki, United Methodist Church Northwestern District superintendent, told the gathering that the union members should not be thought of as doing anything improper, despite the fact that police were called out to control them.
“Those 10 people lost their lives because they wanted to make a just demand,” Zaki said, adding that the police officers were used by Republic Steel management in ways meant “to benefit the status quo.”
The Steelworkers union's Robinson expressed a similar viewpoint, saying of Republic Steel management, “They saw their workers as nothing but objects to be used to advance never-ending profits.”