[OPE-L:5119] Memorial Day, 1997

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 26 May 1997 10:25:52 -0700 (PDT)

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Memorial Day is one of those holidays, like the 4th of July, that is
celebrated in the U.S. with patriotic flag-waving, parades, and backyard
picnics. It is also remembered by trade unionists for the 1937 "Memorial
Day Massacre" in Chicago during the "Little Steel Strike."

I. The Memorial Day Massacre

In one of the pivotal battles of the early CIO, the Steel Workers
Organizing Committee (SWOC) sought to organize the steel industry. The CIO
leaders, including John L. Lewis and Philip Murray, knew that this would
be one of the most difficult challenges for industrial unionism. Indeed,
the organizing campaign was launched on July 5, 1936 at the graves of the
trade unionists who died during the Homestead Strike of 1892. Pat Fagen,
president of District 5 of the United Mine Workers said: "The blood of the
martyrs of the '92 strike would be the seed of the organization in 1936."

SWOC, under Murray's command, sent 400 organizers into the steel towns of
Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and Alabama and had the largest "war chest"
(i.e. organizing and strike fund) in US labor history. Although the steel
companies denounced the SWOC organizers as "Emissaries of Moscow", union
membership increased rapidly to 100,000 by the end of 1936.

Then, a surprise. John L. Lewis concluded a secret negotiation with Myron
Taylor, chairman of the board of industry-leader United States Steel, in
which US Steel agreed to recognize SWOC and accepted the *8 hour day* and
the *40 hour week*.

But the leaders of "Little Steel", a group of companies that included
Bethlehem, Republic, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and Inland, refused to
follow the lead of US Steel. In May and June, 70,000 steelworkers struck
the non-union companies.

The Little Steel companies, of course, claimed that the union organizers
were "outside agitators" and "subversives" and had the support of local
city officials, police, company agents, and vigilantes. Republic Steel
alone had preparted for the strike by arming its 370-person police force
with 532 pistols, 64 rifles, 245 shotguns, 143 gas guns, 2707 gas
grenades, and 232 billy clubs. During the strike 18 workers were killed,
160 wounded, and thousands arrested. In Ohio the National Guard was used
to disband picket lines.

The violence culminated on Memorial Day, 1937, at the gates of Republic
Steel's South Chicago plant, where Chicago police fired many rounds of
bullets in a peaceful crowd of striking steelworkers and their families.
Ten steelworkers were killed and over 100 suffered bullet wounds. Most
were shot in the back.

It wasn't until 1941, under pressure from the *government* and through
victories in National Labor Relations Board elections under the Wagner
Act, that the Little Steel companies were unionized.

(The above is paraphrased from Ronald L. Filippeli _Labor in the USA: A
History_, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1984, pp. 188-192).

II. Questions

a) During Marx's life there were already mass movements of workers for
first the "10 hour day" and later the "8 hour day" throughout Europe and
North America. The "8 hour day movement" was championed, as well, by the
First International. Contemporary labor historians are somewhat divided in
their interpretation of the causes of this movement. One group of
historians emphasize the demand for additional *leisure time* and thus
point to one of the most popular slogans of the time: "8 hours for work, 8
hours for sleep, 8 hours for what we will." Another group of historians
emphasize the connection between hours of work and levels of microeconomic
employment, i.e. the possibility that shortening the workweek can be used
as a way of combating "technological unemployment."

Q: How is the demand for additional leisure time important for workers'
struggles today? Does it represent, for example, an expression of the
"auto-valorization" (Negri, Cleever) of workers?

Q: What is required for struggles around the short workweek to be
effective? Is state action required?

Q: Given the disparity of hours of work internationally, what type of
international trade union solidarity is required for workers to win a
reduction in working hours. Why has international bargaining by unions had
only limited success to date?

b) The *state* played an important role in first repressing the "Little
Steel Strike" and then creating the conditions, through changes in labor
law, that led to the unionization of the steel industry.

Q: Can this tension and contradictory role of the state be best grasped by
the tension between "civil society" and the state (a position that
Geert/Mike W seem to suggest) or by viewing the state, more "classically"
as a tool of class repression (perhaps best emphasized by "Open Marxists"
like Massimo). Or, is this an example of "overdetermination" (such as
Althusserians like Steve C, Paul Z, Ajit, Bruce might claim)?

Q: In a period of increasing regional trade associations (e.g. EU, NAFTA),
where blocs of capitalist nations confront workers, how has the role of
the *individual* state changed vis-a-vis labor?

In solidarity, Jerry