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Labor History Articles

If the Rev. Martin Mangan were alive, he'd turn 75 years old today

Webtrax Admin

reprinted from Decatur Herald & Review - Sunday, December 12, 2004

By AMY HOAK - H&R Staff Writer

DECATUR - If the Rev. Martin Mangan were alive, he'd turn 75 years old today.

If he had the energy, the St. James priest would still be fighting for justice in the workplace, say those who knew him. He'd be urging corporations to see that people should come before profit, that workers' rights should always trump any bottom line.

And if local labor's epitome of social justice was there to accept the honor bestowed upon him Saturday night at the Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly's annual community services and awards banquet, he would have done so quite modestly.

"He would have been quite humbled by it," said Sister Glenda Bourgeois, who worked closely with Mangan during his days at St. James Catholic Church.

Mangan was posthumously inducted into the Illinois Labor History Society's Union Hall of Honor on Saturday, a distinction bestowed on only about 10 downstate leaders and a couple of priests during the 20 years it has been in existence

Every year, two or three Illinoisans who have had a significant impact on workers rights are chosen as recipients, and most are from Chicago, said Mike Matejka, who is on the state labor history board and presented the award Bourgeois accepted. Many prior inductees worked in the early 1900s, he said.

Mangan, however, was a contemporary labor advocate conditioned by the civil rights movement in the 1960s who later came to bring strength to local unions facing off with their ever-competitive corporate bosses.

"He had a real sense of social justice," Matejka said. "He brought an appreciation for Catholic teaching - that people came before profit."

He also did it without any airs of self-importance, agreed Matejka and Bourgeois.

Some of Mangan's most remembered moments came during Decatur's labor unrest in the mid-1990s. He once stood chained for 12 hours to a fence outside A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., protesting the 12-hour workday of those inside. He was also one of scores arrested for trespassing during a demonstration at the plant.

In September 2001, Mangan lost a battle with cancer at the age of 71.

Local historian and Macon County Board member Bob Sampson works to keep Mangan's spirit alive through a "Friends of Mitz" group, which hosts lectures and whose members wear lapel buttons bearing the letters "FOM" on them.

Mike Shampine says he likes to think the Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly also has continued Mangan's tradition. Shampine is president of the organization, which serves as an umbrella for local AFL-CIO unions.

"We champion those standing out and speaking out against wrongs done against workers," he said, then quickly shifted gears to lament the large number of union jobs lost during the past 3½ years. New jobs in the service industry often don't provide an even swap for the good-paying union jobs lost, he said.

Mangan would have had the same complaints, Shampine said.

Though Mangan got involved in labor issues during a lockout at Staley and strikes at Bridgestone/Firestone and Caterpillar Inc., he still would have no trouble finding labor issues to work on in the community, said Bourgeois.

"Whenever he saw rights denied, he stepped up to the plate," she said.

As a reminder of that, the plaque she accepted Saturday will be hung in the vestibule of St. James, next to a picture of the revered father.

"He's a legend," she said.