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450 S Michigan Ave, AUD 1851
Chicago IL 60605
United States


Illinois Labor History Society

Hall of Honor

Filtering by Tag: 2012

2012 Union Hall of Honor

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Ed Sadlowski

A tribute to Ed Sadlowski by his son, Ed Jr.

I am a fourth generation trade unionist. My Dad is a great labor leader, educator, a mentor, a true "Pal," the best kind of friend -- an instant champion of your cause. Knowledge is power. Ed Sadlowski lhas spent his lifetime fulfilling his calling that everyone "know the score," "who is screwing who." My father never gives anyone a "bum steer" when advice is sought, or more commonly, when his counsel is "passionately" proffered.

His people were forged and tapped from hard living in and around the coal mines of Southern Illinois, and from tehe intense heat of the steel making furnaces which lined Lake Michigan's Southern shoreline. His father worked the ore bridges at Inland Steel in East Chicago, Indiana. "Load" was a militant, a true believer. The Congress of Industrial organizations was his thing. He was a Steel Worker Organizxing Committee activist, a founding member of USW Local 1010. With a culture of direct action by workers on the shop floor, the local union cultivated loyalty of the membership and the active participation of the rank and file in the day to day functions of the union. Democratic trade unionism has become the hallmark of our family heritage. Load was a trade unionist's trade unionist. My Dadalways made it his business to ensure the elder generations spent time with the younger crowd. Life's hard lessons have been handed down.

In 1956, our Dad landed a job as an oiler in the machine shope at United States Steel South Works. His identity was quickly shaped by his work environment. Like many in the mills, like his father before him, he picked up a handle along the way -- "Oilcan Eddie." Our parents were high school sweethearts from the proverbial different side of two millgate community tracks. A river also runs through it. He, a South Chicago working class kid. She hailed from the neighborhood farthest east in the city. Somehow it is a perceived "step up" across the Calumet River, known as the "East Side." Ed and Marlene Sadlowski were married on January 31, 1959.

In 1964, at the age of 24, by Dad led a diverse coalition of rank and file workers to victory, upsetting an entrenched incumbent to become President of USW Local 65. With her calm wisdom, deep compassion, and profound love for others, Marlene was not the woman behind the man, but she remained standing by his side. In the early days, our Mom was active in the Women's Auxiliary, which meant social gatherings, political rallies, parades, and countless meetings at the Local 65 Hilding Anderson Union Hall. They began taking on responsibility for the good and welfare of 14,000 steelworkers, and at the same time my sisters Susan, Patty, Diane and I were part of the scene.

In 1975, Ed Sadlowski beat the hand-picked successor of the "official family" by a 2 to 1 margin to become Director of USW Distreict 31. This was steelworker insurgency -- Steel Workers Fight Back. At the time, it was the largest district in the USW. The victory followed an earlier election for the directorship was was wrought with charges of fraud against the "official family" of the union. The Department of Labor re-run is considered the most supervised election in U.S. labor history.

In 1976 Steel Workers Fight Back slated our father to head a ticket challenging the International Presidency of the union. During the campaign leading up to the 1977 election, our family hit the road, attending union functions around the country. Ben Corum was shot in the neck handing out Steel Workers Fight Back literature at the Hughes Tool Plant in Housing, Texas. Fight Back was organizing delegates to the International Convention to gain tlhe right of union members to vote on their own contracts, regain the right to strike and have a say about their union dues. These hard won democratic rights are taken for granted by many in the labor movement today. It was a hotly contested election for the Presidency of the union. Without question, the Steel Workers Fight Back insurgent movement has changed the culture of the USW for the better.

"I guess maybe I am a romantic, but I look at the American labor movement as a holyi crusade, which should be the dominant force in this coutnry to fight for working people and the underdog and make this a more just society." -- Ed Sadlowski

Alice Peurala: Woman of Steel

Written by Bob Simpson

The fires of steelmaking burned all along the southern shores of Lake Michigan when Alice Peurala entered U.S. Steel's South Works in 1953. Today most of those fires have gone out and with them the thousands of jobs that were once the economic support system for the Southeast Chicago-Gary region, a region that has still not recovered.

Steelworker Alice Peurala was the daughter of Armenian immigrants. Born in 1928 in St. Louis, she grew up in a family that was pro-union and politically involved in trying to recover Armenian lands from Turkey, as had been promised by President Wilson after World War I. Like the children of most immigrant families, Peurala was well acquainted with hard work, taking her first job at 14. Later she moved to Chicago where she took a number of jobs and worked as a union organizer. A socialist, she had to contend with the redbaiting of the McCarthy period and there were periods of unemployment when she was fired for union organizing.

Whlen Peurala entered Chicago's South Works steel mill in 1953, there were few women employed there. Most of the women who had steel jobs during WWII had dreturned home when the men came back from the war. The women who remained faced gender discrimination in hiring and promotion. Still, Peurala found that most of the male steelworkers were pretty decent guys who taught her the tricks of the steelmaking trade.

Active in the civil rights movement, Alice knew that the 1964 Civil Rights Actd covered gender as well as race., So ion 1967, when she was denied a promotion from her job in the Metallurgical Division to a better position in a product testing lab, she decided to fight. The promotion would mean that Peurala, a single mom, coulod be with her daughter in the evenings. She was told that since the job required overtime and heavy lifting, she was ineligible as a woman. The union would not take her case so she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC determined that the company had lied about the heavy lifting, the onerous overtime, and the education requirements. They recommended that she sue.

She found a lawyer, the young Patrick Murphy, who knew little about civil rights law, but dedicated himself to the case. After much foot-dragging, and many objections from US Steel attorneys, the judge issued a compromise solution. Peurala would be next in line for a product tester's job. Then when US Steel tried to cirdcumvent the settlement, the judge was so furious that Peurala finally got her promotion in 1969. It was a victory for all women in manufacturing and avictory for democracy in the workplace. Cases like those of Alice Peurala helped make the 1974 Consent Decree to end discrimination in the steel industry a reality. The Decree was signed by nine major steel companies, the steelworkers union and the EEOC.

Soon afterward, Peurala joined Steelworkers Fight Back, a rank and file steelworker insurgency group which developed a large following in Districtd 31 of the USW. Led by a third generation steelworker named Ed Sadlowski, Steelworkers Fightback introduced a democratic militancy into the steel industry that had not been seen since the early days of the CIO. Alice Peurala was one of the tough, smart working class leaders emerging in the 1960s who were determined to challenge the iron-fisted dictatorial control of company owners. They also challenged the leadership of their unions and fought for democratic reforms. 

Despite the 1974 Consent Decree, women were being forced to take sick leave for pregnancy and made ineligible for unemployment oir medical insurance. There were reports of women feeling compelled to have abortions to survive economically. Women steelworkers suspected that the companies were using pregnancy to rid themselves of women they never wanted to hire in the first place. There were also problems with promotions. After she was elected as a grievance handler, Peurala came to believe that the company was hiring inexperienced women to do jobs they couldn't handle as a way to dismiss these new hires, instead of promoting experienced women from inside the plant. The new hires were being set up to fail. Alice's response: "We can't allow men to decide what women's rights are. They aren't the ones who will get hurt, we are. If those bastards try that trick again, tell them where to shove it. The men never put up with this shit."

Peurala helped organize the Local 65 Women's Caucus. Steelworker women activists plunged into a wide variety of campaigns from fighting for stronger affirmative action enforcement to improving the decrepit state of the women's washrooms. They formed alliances with feminist groups across the region, refuting the rightwing smear that feminism was only a movement for privileged white women. They became active in the newly formed Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). District 31 made a major push for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), sending hundreds of steelworkers, both men and women, to state legislatures to lobby for equal rights. While some local media tried to make a joke out of "burly male steelworkers" campaigning for women's rights, steelworker women and men didn't think that was funny at all. They understood the iimportance of working class solidarity against social injustice. 

Once dubbed "Alice in Wonderland" by men who thought a woman could never lead a largely male steelworker local, Alice Peurala won the presidency of Local 65 in 1979 because of her solid record of achievement. "I did not win a a woman. I campaigned as a candidate who would so something about conditions in the plant that affect 7500 people -- men and women. ... People in the plant looked on me as a fighter. I think it demonstrates that the men in the plant will vote for someone who is going to work for them, make the union work for them." -- Alice Peurala

But Peurala's victory came when the American steel industry was about to collapse in an atmosphere of fear caused by mass layoffs. She was narrowly defeated for re-election in 1982, but was re-elected in 1985. But by 198 5, the local was down to 800 members and Alice Peurala faced a new enemy -- cancer. On June 21, 1986, her steelworker's heart went silent and the working class lost one of its finest and most steadfast leaders. 

Frank Lumpkin, Steelworker Leader, Fighter for a Better World

Written by Beatrice Lumpkin

Born the third of ten children on October 13, 1916, Frank Lumpkin is known for winning a 17-year fight against a steel mill, but he also participated in numerous other struggles for social justice. His family, sharecroppers in Washington, GA, moved to Florida to pick oranges when Frank was six years old. At age 13, he lost two fingers when others dared him to touch a power line. Two years later, Lumpkin left school to pick fruit full-time. 

As a young man, Lumpkin boxed well enough to fight professionally. He also worked in the orange groves and as a chauffeur. Following a brother who found better pay as a steelworker, Frank moved to Buffalo, NY, and gotr a job at Bethlehem Steel in 1941. Joining the merchant marine in 1943, he took part in a strike organized by the integrated National Maritime Union and his belief in communism took hold. In 1949, Frank Lumpkin moved to Chicago and married Beatrice.

The Wisconsin Steel Mill hired Lumpkin in 1950, and he quickly led an unsuccessful movement to bring a national union to his workplace. Lumpkin continued at the plant until 1980, when it closed down in a currupt scheme to cheat its workers out of their last paychecks, pensions and benefits. The in-house union refused to fight, and Lumpkin organized the Save Our Jobs Committee. Under his leadership, the group picketed offices in Illinois and Washington, DC. Fighting hard and long, Save Our Jobs finally succeeded in wining multiple court settlements that totaled $19 million. Although this represented a small monetary victory for the 2,500 workers the committee rdepresented, Lumpkin succeeded in showing that, united, people are strong.

Lumpkin has fought throughout his life for such causes as racial justice, living wages and peace. Mayor Harold Washington appointed him to task forces on hunger and dislocated workers. Frank and Beatrice Lumpkin have traveled internationallly, visiting Eastern Europe and Russia behind the Iron Curtain as well as Africa and Latin America. Frank was a lifelong member of the Communist Party USA and active in many other economic and social justice organizations.

"Racism is a business. When they were organizing the packinghouses, they brought in these Black guys from the South to break the strikes. What happens? Some of these Black guys become the main organizers of the union.  The backbone -- it's Black and white." -- Frank Lumpkin