Memorial Day, 1937: Workers and supporters marched to the Republic Steel plant to establish a picket line.
In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, popularly known as the Wagner Act, giving workers the right to form a union. Millions of workers joined the newly organized Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the already existing AFL (American Federation of Labor).
The United Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), quickly won a contract from the nation's largest steel company, U.S. Steel. But smaller, but still powerful, steel companies, known as "Little Steel," refused to recognize the new union. In May 1937, these steelworkers struck for union recognition, including the workers at Republic Steel on Chicago's south side.
On Memorial Day (May 31), 1937, these striking workers and their supporters marched en masse toward the Republic Steel plant, hoping to establish a picket line. There they were met by the Chicago police, who opened fire on the crowd, killing 11 workers and wounding over 60. The next day the newspapers reported a "worker riot" and attacks on police, but later newsreel film showed it was the police was over-reacted, not the workers. The strike was lost, but in 1941 Republic Steel workers organized again, voting under the National Labor Relations Act for United Steel Workers representation.