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Past Events

2014 Union Hall of Honor


Thank you all of our sponsors, to every union local that placed an ad, purchased a table, or bought a ticket, to every individual who volunteered or attended the 2014 Union Hall of Honor--because of your support we had a tremendous evening!

Read a transcript of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka's speech here.

Now more than ever, members of public and private sector unions must work together to stand up against the barrage of anti-union attacks typified by the erosion of public sector union rights in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The Illinois Labor History Society honors the men and women who worked tirelessly for the union rights we have today. Their legacy inspires a renewal of our commitment to organize a united defense of those rights -- an injury to one is an injury to all.

The 2014 Inductees into the Union Hall of Honor

Robert Gibson
Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO for 15 years and then its President for a decade until 1989. Robert Gibson was instrumental in winning the long battle for public sector union rights which culminated in the 1983 collective bargaining laws for public employees.

Connell F. Smith
Secretary-Treasurer of Laborers' Local 773 in Southern Illinois, serving from the Local's first charter in 1940 to 1976. Connell Smith threw open the doors of Local 773 and helped build a widely diverse downstate Local representing workers in both the private and public sectors.

Regina V. Polk
Her life tragically cut short in a 1983 plane crash, Regina Polk was one of the first female organizers on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' staff. She pioneered the organizing of clerical employees, predominantly women, from both the private and public sectors into IBT Local 743.

Virden Centennial

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A celebration held October 11, 1998 marks the centennial of the Battle of Virden

The commemoration of the Centennial of the "Battle of Virden," in which eight coal miners and four mine guards died on October 12, 1898, drew a greater-than-expected crowd of a thousand or more to throng the town square of little Virden, about 20 miles south of Springfield, Illinois. The contemporary event took place on Sunday, October 11, 1998.

The crowd, including scores of present-day strikers from three nearby coal miners, responded enthusiastically to a dynamic speech by Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America.  They walked through the town to several historical locations. There they listened to actors portraying real persons from the successful, though bloody, struggle to prevent a train carrying replacement workers from reaching its destination. The Governor, thereupon, used the militia to prevent further strikebreaking.

The event was produced by a committee of local residents and union people from the area. Prof. Rosemary Feurer of Northern Illinois University led the project. An illustrated booklet recounting the story of Virden was produced especially for the program. It is available from the Illinois Labor History Society, the fiscal sponsor of the event. For more information email ilhs[at]

The program was supported by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council. Co-sponsors were: Mother Jones Foundation; United Mine Workers District 12; SEIU Local  73; Laborers Union, Southwestern District Council; Springfield Trades and Labor Assembly; Madison County Federation of Labor.


2002 Union Hall of Honors Dinner

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This celebration included a presentation by Elliot Gorn, author of Mother Jones, The Most Dangerous Woman in America.

December 2002 - Over 200 delighted diners joined and sang a lusty Solidarity Forever at the conclusion of the Union Hall of Honor ceremonies for 2002, held on November 24th. The happy event took place in the historic 19th Century Club of Oak Park.

Inducted into the Union Hall of Honor of the Illinois Labor History Society were Mother Jones and Mollie West. Mother Jones was a frequent visitor to our state. She was in Chicago in 1915 for the garment workers, in Bloomington for the streetcar strike of 1917, in Joliet for the wall paper workers in 1918, and in South Chicago for steelworkers in 1919.

Mollie West was honored for her life-long commitment to working class causes.

Roberta Lynch, Deputy Director of AFSCME Council 31, delivered a powerful speech, including a blistering indictment of American corporate leadership, also a consistent theme of Mother Jones in her day.

Fortunately, Mother Jones visited the event, in the person of AFTRA-SAG member, actress Maureen Steindler. She delivered just such an indictment of the great Milwaukee brewers for their treatment of "slave girls" who donned their wet clothes every day to wash beer bottles under miserable conditions. The speech was written by Mother Jones in 1912.

Comments on the career of Mother Jones were presented by Elliot Gorn, author of Mother Jones, the Most Dangerous Woman in America. Autographed copies of Gorn's book, the newest and most complete biography yet written, were sold at the literature table.

Reverend Addie Wyatt, retired International Vice President of UFCW delivered the invocation.

The program began in the afternoon with an informative slide show about Mother Jones, narrated by Vice-President William Adelman, retired professor of labor history from the University of Illinois and one of the "Roads Scholars" for the Illinois Humanities Council. Adelman also recounted the history of the hall, formerly known as the 19th Century Women's Club of Oak Park. Many of the illustrious progressive thinkers of Mother Jones' era had spoken there. Among them were Carl Sandburg, Henry Demarest Lloyd, and Jane Addams.

Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, Tim Leahy, presented the Hall of Honor plaque to Mollie West. The mayor of Mt. Olive, IL, Tom Spears, accepted the plaque for Mother Jones from President Les Orear. Spears said it would hang in the Mother Jones museum which the town plans to establish. The musicians were Allen Schwartz and Tim Yeager, both ILHS trustees. Trustee Mike Evers, a Chicago labor attorney, chaired the event.

A big "Thank You" to all the ticket buyers and advertisers who made the annual dinner a financial success, as well as a great celebration.

Many thanks to CAN TV for providing video coverage of our event.

2003 Union Hall of Honors Dinner

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This dinner celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the Laborers' International Union of America.

November 2003 - Answering the call to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Laborers' International Union of America (LIUNA) were nearly 300 members and friends of organized labor at the annual Union Hall of Honor Awards Dinner on October 19, 2003. They were richly rewarded by a powerful address by LIUNA's General President, Terence O'Sullivan. The event was held in Countryside, Illinois at the banquet facilities of Operating Engineers Local 150.

O'Sullivan paid full tribute to the sacrifices made by the forbearers of LIUNA. At the same time he reminded his audience that as a result of the erosion of America's industrial economy, union membership has fallen to approximate levels of half a century ago. He made it clear that LIUNA will be in the forefront of the effort to reverse this trend.

The event opened with a performance of "With These Hands" by Mike Matejka, a member of the Bloomington local union of LIUNA. Enacted by four of the union's working members, it recounted the story of the union from its founding in 1903. At that time, three quarters of the delegates came from Chicago.

The show was accompanied by the Bound for Glory musical group, also from Bloomington.

A handsome plaque inscribed to Herman Lilien, the first president of the new union, then called the Hod Carriers' and Building Laborers' Union, was presented to LIUNA's Midwest Regional Manager, Ed Smith of Springfield. A plaque inscribed to Peter Fosco, LIUNA's General President was presented by Secretary Treasurer, Tim Leahy of the Chicago Federation of Labor. LIUNA Great Lakes Manager, Terrence Healey accepted.

A special Making Labor History Award was presented to Local One of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees for their inspiring contract campaign of last year, and the ongoing struggle to win a similar agreement with the hold out Congress Plaza Hotel. ILHS Chairman. Dick Stanton made the presentation to the committee of Congress Hotel strikers led by Dan Miller of HERE.

As a concluding presentation it was announced from the podium that the Illinois Labor History Society would be awarded a gift in the amount of $5,000 from LIUNA!

The evening concluded with Solidarity, labor's anthem.

Haymarket Memorial Dedicated

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Chicago's long awaited Haymarket Memorial sculpture was dedicated in a public ceremony attended by numerous union representatives and others on September 14, 2004. Located at Randolph and Desplaines Streets at the spot where the wagon used by the Haymarket speakers stood on the night of May 4, 1886, now rests a semi-abstract bronze monument to one of labor history's most tragic moments.

Speakers at the ceremony included Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois State AFL-CIO, was in the applauding crowd. Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Lois Weisberg chaired the event and introduced Senator Emil Jones who sponsored legislation funding the project. Others on the official speakers list were Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, and Nathan Mason, who directed the project.

It was noted that members of the Teamsters had volunteered to truck the sculpture from the foundry in Oregon, Illinois to its new site. The crowd also heard remarks from a member of the anarchist group. President Les Orear of the Illinois Labor History Society spoke of that organization's satisfaction at the realization of a goal it had set at its founding in 1969.

It is expected that the site will become a magnet to many foreign visitors, and to travelers from around the country familiar with the Haymarket story. Sculptor, Mary Brogger, told reporters that her piece was deliberately abstract, open to the interpretation of each viewer. To most union minded people, however, it will be seen as a symbol of freedom of speech and assembly under attack, and in the process of rejuvenation. The figure of The Speaker carries on.

The ILHS at 35! A Report from the Annual Awards Dinner

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The magnificent Ballroom at the new headquarters of the Carpenters District Council in Chicago was filled to the brim as the Illinois Labor History Society celebrated its 35 years of service to the labor movement and the public.

Some 200 well-wishers were on hand when Larry Spivack, newly elected Chair of the ILHS Board, called the guests to order and asked Trustee Alma Washington to read a letter. The congratulatory message was from Jerry O'Connor, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The former leader of IBEW Local 134 in Chicago has been a strong supporter of ILHS since its founding in 1969.

Co-Chairs of the evening were Dennis Gannon, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and President Margaret Blackshere of the Illinois AFL-CIO. A moving invocation by Rev. Addie Wyatt was followed by Vice President Bill Adelman who presented an illustrated account of our many accomplishments over the years.

Don Turner, retired President of the CFL, was the principal speaker of the evening. His talk about the importance of labor history was so warmly applauded that President Les Orear promised to post Don's remarks on the ILHS web site where it will be available to all comers.

The event concluded with the induction into the Union Hall of Honor of Les Orear, a founder of the ILHS and its President since the beginning. President Blackshere brought with her from Springfield a letter from Governor Rod Blagojevich, lauding Les Orear and the ILHS for its years of good work on behalf of labor history. He said: "Throughout the years, you have never wavered in your belief that we can all learn from the past, both from our mistakes and our triumphs."

President Gannon read the citation on the handsome plaque and presented it to Orear, who appeared overwhelmed by the honors.

But more was to come! The big surprise was the presentation of a portrait of the veteran ILHS president. The 27" x 24" framed painting was displayed to the gathering by the artist, O. W. Neebe, grandson of Haymarket martyr Oscar Neebe, who had been pardoned by Gov. Altgeld in 1893.

Former Trustee, Alan Schwartz, now a resident of Ohio, provided his inspirational labor songs and led the singing of Solidarity Forever, as the Union Hall of Honor Awards Dinner, 2004 concluded.

The event will be telecast on Chicago Access Network TV21 on Sunday, December 19 at 3:00 PM. The program will repeat on Tuesday, December 21 at 9:00 AM on CAN TV19.

Great May Day Celebration

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As part of the ILHS recent May Day celebration, James Green, Professor of History and Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston delivered this address entitled The Globalization of Memory: The Enduring Memory of Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs around the World.

The following was presented as a talk to the annual meeting of the Illinois Labor History Society on May 1, 2005 and is drawn from Jim Green's new book to be published in March 2006 by Random House. The book will be entitled: Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America.
A longer version of this talk will be published with footnotes to all sources in Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas in the fall of 2005 (Vol. 2, no. 4). Labor is the official journal of the Labor & Working Class History Association. A yearly LAWCHA membership of $50 dues ($30 for students) brings you the journal four times a year. You can join LAWCHA online at

Jim Green is Professor of History and Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and current president of the Labor and Working Class History Association. He can be reached at[at]

Good morning! Happy May Day one and all! It is great to be back in Chicago and to be here with my brothers and sisters in the Illinois Labor History Society. I know you all know the Haymarket saga backwards and forwards, so I want to tell you a chapter of the story, an epilogue to the tale you might not know so well.

Let's begin by going back to Chicago in cold spring of 1941 when, at age 91, Lucy Parsons braved the winds and spoke to workers on Blue Island Avenue, still known as the Black Road where a union affiliated with the new Congress of Industrial Organizations was campaigning for votes at the old McCormick works-where all the trouble started in 1886, all the trouble that led to the tragedy in the Haymarket. When the weather warmed up that spring, Lucy reappeared at a May Day parade riding through the Southwest Side as an honored guest sitting on top of a float sponsored by the C.I.O.'s Farm Equipment Workers Union. It would to be her last May Day.

Nine months later on March 7, 1942, the stove in Lucy Parsons' little house caused a fire. Handicapped by her blindness, she could not escape. Her ashes were placed at Waldheim, close to the remains of her beloved Albert and her daughter Lulu and her funeral was attended by many of the young radicals who carried on the union fight that began with the Great Upheaval of her youth.

Lucy's final May Day in 1941 was also the last one celebrated in Chicago for a long time. During the Cold War years that followed, the Chicago idea of militant unions taking mass action against capital and the state—the idea Albert Parsons and August Spies espoused until their last breath- simply vanished from the American labor scene.

May Day celebrations that had resumed briefly after World War II were banned and in 1955 May 1 was proclaimed Law Day in many states, then designated as Loyalty Day in all states by presidential decree. The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged that same year after nearly all the radicals had been purged from union offices and those in the ranks had learned to keep quiet. Thus, it seemed that the memory of Haymarket boys would be effectively erased from the labor movement's history, even in Chicago.

In other parts of world, however, particularly the Latin world, the Haymarket story was retold many times over. Indeed, no other event in American history after the Civil War exerted the kind of hold the Haymarket tragedy maintained on the popular imagination of working people in other countries, particularly in Mexico where May 1 became a national holiday long known as "the Day of the Martyrs of Chicago."

Even after radical independent unions were replaced by party dominated worker federations in Mexico, and even after trade unions were destroyed and demonstrations were banned by military dictators during the 1970s in places like Chile, Argentina and Uruguay—even in these places icons to the martyrs could be found. While traveling in the remote tin mining region of Bolivia during the 1980s, the journalist Dan LaBotz met a worker who invited him into his little home. As he was eating dinner with the miner and his family, LaBotz noticed a small piece of cloth hanging in the window, an embroidery that in the U.S. might have read: "God bless our home." He moved closer to take a look and saw that it read: "Long Live the Martyrs of Chicago."

LaBotz made this discovery a century after the Haymarket bombing, the arrests, the defeat of the eight h our strikes and the show trial of the Haymarket Eight in the summer of 1886. Let's return to those days and consider what made them so memorable to workers around the world.

A hundred years before—in summer of 1887, the world's first international amnesty movement was swinging into gear

Haymarket anarchists Amnesty Committee; it was led by Chicago's great labor reformer, Henry Demarest Lloyd and Chicago's great trade union activist George A. Schilling.

At first, the response to the committee's appeal came in the form of resolutions of from labor unions and by cash contributions from workers in many cities across the country and particularly from immigrant unionists in Chicago who were kept constantly informed by a revived radical press comprised of the Arbeiter Zeitung, which had reopened under new management, by the city's Knights of Labor publication edited by Bert Stewart.

Meanwhile, in New York City, John Swinton, the most influential labor journalist in the land, attacked the death sentence as a judicial murder and He then joined with fourteen union leaders representing various wings of the city's union movement to condemn the verdict and to call for a mass protest on October 20. That night a large crowd jammed into the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City to hear Samuel Gompers, the new President of the American Federation of Labor, denounce the proceedings in Chicago. Unlike chief Powderly of the Knights, who refused to endorse the campaign for clemency, Gompers joined other trades union leaders in making an appeal for liberty, free speech and justice expressing their belief that the impending execution would be "a disgrace to the honor of this country."

Meanwhile, in Cuba, a surprising level of concern over the case welled up among workers in Havana where the anarchist newspaper, El Productor, had closely followed the eight hour struggle and the ordeal of the anarchists accused of the May 4 bombing. The editor, Enrique Roig, like many labor activists in Havana, was a exiled anarchist from Spain who published many reports on the Chicago trial and the demonstrations of protest and solidarity around the world. Two weeks before the Cooper Union meeting in New York City, El Circolo de Tradajadores de La Habana convened a meeting of workers in the colonial capital to begin a campaign to save the lives of the Chicago eight. A special committee was formed that held a meeting on November 8 of 1000 workers from various unions, "tipographos, cigarerros, zapateros, mecanicos," and so forth where it was agreed to send a petition to the governor of Illinois urging a pardon that was also signed by workers in all the provinces and in a greater number of towns in the interior. One of the results of this vast solidarity campaign was that 1000 pesos were raised to send to support the families of the condemned men.

At the same time European socialists and trade unionists turned their attention to the events unfolding in Chicago. "The European socialist press devoted a 'truly impressive amount of coverage to the Haymarket bombing and all the events flowing from it," wrote historian R. L. Moore. "Indeed, for fifty years event in the U.S. no "incident on the American scene was given so much space or remembered so long." Although European socialists, particularly those of the outlawed German social democratic party, regarded anarchists a destructive provocateurs at best, their newspapers embraced the Haymarket defendants as heroic social revolutionaries and gave their hard-hitting speeches on American freedom wide circulation.

The repression following the bombing, the reaction to the eight hour movement, the show trial, the rejection of appeals to the higher courts and the governor, the anarchists' fervent speech making and finally the intensely

scrutinized execution—all events confirmed the view European socialists had held about America at a time when popular opinion on the Continent regarded the U.S. as a Promised Land, a new Caanan.

That same month trade unionists and reformers in London spoke out against the executions, primed by the editorials that appeared in the socialist publication, Commonweal produced by William Morris, the noted poet and designer. Morris had commented regularly on the Haymarket events since the original May 1 strikes. At the same time, he worried about of rioting by of unemployed marchers in his native London and feared that city authorities would now adopt the repressive tactics of the Chicago police who "hunted socialists like wolves."

Coverage of the trial and the appeal hearings was even more extensive in Paris, a city with an active anarchist movement (though it was tiny compared to the International in Chicago.) When word of the failed appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court reached France, the socialist newspaper Le Cri du Peuple announced a protest against what would be the most atrocious political crime since the hanging of John Brown. Public concern reached all the way to the municipal council of the Seine whose deputies issued a plea for mercy to the U.S. legation recalling the clemency the federal government had extended to the "vanquished leaders of the Southern rebellion." Many of the same deputies also signed a clemency petition to the governor of Illinois. In October radicals called Haymarket protest meetings in London, The Hague and Rotterdam, in Vienna, Brussels, Lyon, Marseilles, Toulon. It was no wonder, then, that the Tribune admitted on October 11: "The eyes of the world seem to be on the Chicago anarchists."

Morris's London publication Commonweal reported on the entire trial and appeal process as a travesty of justice. By contrast, during the trial the editors of the London Times praised the Chicago police but then praised their use of force on the streets and suggested British police might well follow the example of their American counterparts who did not hesitate to invade public meetings without legal sanction or to "carry revolvers, and use them without mercy when they see signs of resistance."

When news of the executions reached England, William Morris announced that the Haymarket case exhibited what he called "the spirit of cold cruelty, heartless and careless at once, which is one of the most noticeable characteristics of American commercialism." Here, said Morris, was "... a country with universal suffrage, no king, no House of Lords" and yet, it was "a society corrupt to the core, and at this moment engaged in suppressing freedom with just the same reckless brutality and blind ignorance as the Czar of all the Russias... ."

On November 13, two days after Black Friday, the London city police attacked a peaceful demonstration of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square with extreme brutality. Two hundred were treated in hospital and three expired because they had been beaten to death. Working-class London was outraged. The trauma of London's "Bloody Sunday," followed so closely upon Chicago's Black Friday, galvanized British radicals and reformers. William Morris of the Socialist League joined others in leading an enormous funeral march honoring the victims of the Trafalgar Square assault.

The news of Haymarket exerted its greatest influence upon Spanish workers who had organized a powerful federation with anarchist leaders in the early 1880s. When the open trade unions were destroyed, anarchist politics remained alive in hundreds of resistance societies that existed side by side with other workers' circles, café clubs and choirs as well as in newspapers that published a talented bunch of skilled writers who presented enormous volume of information in accessible forms like serials and novellas.

The memory of the Haymarket victims deepened when it became associated with the celebration of May Day as the international workers' day beginning in 1890. In cities all over Europe the icons of the Chicago martyrs appeared in the first of May processions along with red flags and crimson flowers: for example, in Barcelona where a militant strike for eight hours swept the city and in Italian towns and cities from Piedmonte to Calabria where socialists and anarchists celebrated Primo Maggio with marches, festivals and strikes. Rank-and-file workers quickly transformed May Day into potent ritual event to demonstrate for the eight hour day, and to assert a new working-class presence in the world." In the Latin world this public expression class solidarity became a commemoration of the Chicago martyrs as well.

Why were these European workers so seized with emotion by the ordeal of the Chicago anarchists? First of all, the trial and hangings had been widely publicized in the mainstream newspapers, and especially in radical periodicals that emerged in great profusion during the mid 1880s. Socialist newspapers in Europe devoted a truly impressive amount of coverage to the Haymarket affair and its aftermath. "Indeed, no future incident on the American," writes one historian, "was given so much space or remembered so long."

Second, the drama of the trial and appeal lasted one year and half, long enough to become a kind of serial drama in which they lives and beliefs of the defendants became well known, partly through their own simply written autobiographies. Parsons and the immigrants who died with him became familiar characters in working-class quarters and were endowed by their admirers with the purest hearts and minds. European workers who learned about the Chicago anarchists came to believe that their "brethren were thoroughly honest " and that, as the anarchist philosopher Kropotkin explained: "Not a single black spot could be detected in their lives, even by their enemies. Not a single black spot!" They were not ambitious man who yearned to rise of their class, to "climb up" on the shoulders of their fellow workers. "They sought no power over others, no place in the ranks of the ruling classes," he added. Furthermore, the condemned men acted courageously, refusing to renounce their beliefs to save their lives, refusing to sacrifice their manhood by begging for mercy from evil men.

When American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers appealed to Governor Oglesby to commute the sentenced of the four men on death row he predicted that executing them would cause "thousands and thousands of labor men all over the world" to look upon the anarchists as martyrs, "executed because they were standing up for free speech and free press." This is precisely what happened as "labor men" created a ritualized memory of their heroes. When Gompers visited European cities in 1895 he noticed in nearly every union hall there were pictures of Parsons, Lingg, Spies, etc. with the inscription: 'Labor's Martyrs to American Capitalism.'" On later visits, he saw "the same pictures still there."

A third reason for the endurance of this memory in working-class consciousness is this: the Spanish retratos (those were portraits on cards like the holy cards of saints) of the martyrs and the memorials to the Chicago anarchists on November 11 as well as the strikes and the parades on May 1 all reflected the power of the Haymarket story for ascendant labor movements around the world in the years between 1886 and 1914, and even longer in Latin America. The remembrance of Spies, Parsons and their comrades was far more than ceremonial; their martyrdom became the key parable in constructing a homily of supreme sacrifice for workers' movements struggling at birth in cities all over Europe and Latin America during the 1890s and beyond.

Confronting aggressive employers, hostile churches and newspapers, armed forces and militarized police forces, these movements needed issues like the eight hour day (a truly international demand), tactics like the mass strike (pioneered in Chicago in 1886) and heroes like the Haymarket martyrs whose dedication to labor cause was absolute and whose vision transcended national boundaries. The pioneers of the labor movement—from Barcelona to Havana from Rome to Mexico city—found all these things in the tragic Chicago story.

Mother Jones knew the power of the martyrs' story and how far it reached. Traveling in Mexico in 1921 she received a hearty reception in many places, notably in Orizaba, a thoroughly organized textile manufacturing town in Puebla where workers had formed a "libertarian mutualist cooperative society" in 1901 and had launched a general strike in 1906 that produced an upsurge in Mexican working-class radicalism.

It was May Day of 1921 when Mother Jones addressed a large meeting of workers and deputies in Orizaba. Most of the elected officials referred to Haymarket in their speeches, she recalled. What impressed her most came at the start of the meeting when a parade entered the hall with bearers of the Mexican national flag and a banner recalling "the murder of the so-called Chicago anarchists of 1886." The audience rose and erupted in applause. "The tribute paid the banner as it entered the hall was the most remarkable demonstration I have witnessed in all my years of industrial conflict," she wrote to the leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

In fact, similar demonstrations occurred all over Mexico that day. The Confederacion General de Trebajo, founded that year on anarchist principles, raised the celebration of May 1st to a new level, calling for 24-hour strikes by its members, an action joined by the other major union movement. In subsequent years, May Day general strikes, took place in several states of the Mexican Republic, especially in Mexico City where the great march and walkout would be referred to "as the annual demonstration glorifying those who were killed in Chicago in 1887."

When Mother Jones described the stirring Mexican May Day events of 1921 to John Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Federation of Labor, she knew that memorials to the anarchists in the U.S. had ended. Indeed, she told the labor leaders there that if they staged celebrations for the Haymarket martyrs like the ones she saw in Mexico they would be thrown in jail.

The memorials to the Chicago martyrs endured in Mexico partly for ceremonial reasons. Traveling near Mexico City on May Day in 1923, an American poet, together with D.H. Lawrence and his wife, saw working people laying cornerstone for a statue to the martyrs of Chicago whose memory—described during a rally as "shameless and villainous"-could still arouse "all Mexico to protest." Of course, at this point in time when radical and militant labor activists had been driven under ground in the U.S. their Mexican comrades remained important in the labor movement as Conferacion General de Trabajadores (C.G.T.).

Later when the unions held bring the pro-worker Cardenas government to power, depicted in far grander site of memory-on the walls of the palace of justice in a mural by Diego Rivera. Perhaps, these Mexican memorials to "los martires de Chicago" reflected one more effort by architects of Mexican national identity, like Rivera, to define Mexico in opposition to the United States, as if to say: "We're Indian, they're Anglo. We're Catholic, they're Protestant. We have history, they have no memory."

A few years later the four anarchist workers who died in 1887 were recalled in a massive parade of 60,000 factory and field workers in Mexico City on May 1, 1936 who voiced their indignation over "the death of the martyrs in Chicago."

But in Latin America martyrs were not just recalled on memorial occasions. They were also remembered during especially in violent strikes led by revolutionary trade unionists—anarcho-syndicalists—who continued as the vanguard of working class struggle Latin America until they were displaced by the political party bosses, as in Mexico, or by Communists, as in Cuba. But during the period before 1920 when only 37 unions in all of Latin America were legally recognized the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists led the most powerful and militant workers' organizations and often led them into terribly risky confrontations as they did in 1916 Bogota, Columbia, one in which numerous workers were killed and more than 500 imprisoned and in the 1918-19 conflicts on the Atlantic Coast including a general strike in Cartagena and the first strike of banana workers against the United Fruit Company in Santa Maria.

And so, as we prepare to march to the Haymarket on this May Day, 2005, we can look to the past to be reminded of the enduring memory of the Chicago martyrs, to be reminded, as we will soon be, by a delegation of Colombian trade unionists who will dedicate a plaque at the base of the new memorial in memory of the more than 1200 workers who have been murdered by death squads in their home land. The ceremony we are about to join will also serve as notice to those who think the kind of deadly violence Chicago workers endured in 1886 and 1887 and again at Pullman in 1894 and at Republic Steel in 1937 is now just "history." Some would say we don't have that kind of bloodshed "here" any more.

May 1st, the international workers' holiday is a perfect day to ask what we mean by "here." If "here" is the United States of America, then labor history reads one way, but it "here" is all the Americas, north and south, we can see that the bloody history that began here in Chicago is not over and done. And on this May Day we can be reminded yet again that the old motto of 1886 still applies, now more than ever, to the new labor movement of today. As the saying goes: "An Injury to One is an Injury to All."

ILHS Union Hall of Honor 2005

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Once again, the ILHS Union Hall of Honor has worked its wonders. The warm and intimate ambience of the Ballroom at Carpenters 's District Council was the perfect setting for the annual tribute to the inspirational power of our labor history.

The tone was firmly set by Chairman Larry Spivack as he opened the pre-dinner program with an introduction of Mike Carrigan and Dennis Gannon, Secretary–Treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Labor and President of the Chicago Federation of Labor respectively. Both spoke of the ILHS with enthusiastic commitment.

The after dinner program took The Message and the Messenger as its theme. Upton Sinclair's 100 year old novel, The Jungle, was the sensational Message of its day. The IWW's Joe Hill, whose songs enlivened the labor movement in his time, represented the Messenger.

Jim Barrett Speaks

The guest speaker was James Barrett, long-time ILHS member and labor historian from the University of Illinois at Urbana. He noted that The Jungle was an instant best-seller and its message had a profound effect on public opinion of the "Meat Trust". The book propelled Congress to adopt food safety legislation. Nevertheless, Barrett observed that its vivid account of the grinding toil and poverty suffered by the workers left out the significant social cohesion and resilience that existed within the immigrant communities.

Following Barrett's talk, Larry Spivack called on everyone to hold hands, close eyes, and maintain a moment of silence. The magic worked and Joe Hill (Joe Bella of AFSCME) worked his way through the audience to take up his guitar and delight the audience with a hard driving rendition of his famous songs.

Next, Franklin Rosemont of the Charles Kerr Publishing Co. talked about Joe Hill and the IWW, which was founded in 1905 in a hall only a couple of blocks away. Rosemont's recently published biography of Joe Hill is among the best-sellers on the ILHS booklist.

The program concluded with inductions into the Union Hall of Honor. The first was Upton Sinclair for his great "Message." That was followed by Joe Hill as the "Messenger." The surprise of the evening came with the induction of Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, managers since 1983 of the venerable Charles Kerr Publishing Co. who have kept the flame alive with new titles. Among them have been The Haymarket Scrapbook and Rosemont's Joe Hill.

All hands held high and voices ringing loud and clear with the sounds of Solidarity Forever, there could be no doubt that all of our batteries had been recharged with that good old Union Spirit.

The entire program was taped for telecast and will appeared January 21 on Chicago's public access television channel, CAN TV21.

Powerful Memorial Unveiled in Virden

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Dedicated on October 28, 2006, Illinois now has a powerful new labor history monument located in Virden. The marvelous bronze sculpture commemorates the Battle of Virden which occurred on October 12, 1898. Located in the town square, the sculpture is a six-foot by 12-foot bas-relief cast in bronze and mounted on a gray granite wall. It depicts people and events associated with the historic "shootout" between mine guards and miners.

Close by the site are the railroad tracks along which the action took place as armed miners stopped a train bringing strikebreakers into the compound of the Chicago-Virden Coal Company. Eight miners and five guards were killed. Another 40 miners were wounded. The train hurried on to Springfield without stopping at the mine. Governor John Tanner intervened on behalf of the miners and sent in the National Guard to restore order and prevent further attempts to bring in strikebreakers. A month later the mine owners yielded and the miners received their wage increase.
Sculpted by Seagrave

The sculptor is David Seagrave of Elizabeth, Illinois who was selected by the Virden Sesquicentennial Group. The Monument project grew out of the 2002 celebration of the town's founding in 1852. Business and civic leaders recognized the need for a proper recognition of its most important historical event and began a fundraising campaign for a proper monument.

More than $140,000 has been raised from the town and state governments, many labor organizations throughout the state, and residents of the community. Another $35,000 is needed to complete the lighting and landscaping of the area. Memorial bricks bearing the names of contributors are being placed around the Monument. Call John Alexander at 217-965-5443 to order your brick for $50-$100.

President Larry Spivack and Trustees Lisa Oppenheim, Katie Jordan and Joe Berry represented the ILHS at the dedication ceremony. Spivack was among the speakers at the unveiling. International President Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers gave a stirring main address. Labor songs were provided by Chicago folksinger Bucky Halker.
Distinguished Site

This memorial to the Battle of Virden is now firmly on the map of U.S. labor history sites. It stands alongside the Mother Jones Monument in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive; the Haymarket Memorial in Haymarket Square, Chicago; the Irish track layers burial site in Funk's Grove near Bloomington; and the plaque to the ten men who fell in a fusillade of police bullets at the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 on Chicago's Southeast Side.

According to Professor Rosemary Feurer of Northern Illinois University, Virden was the focal point of a huge demonstration each year, bringing coal mine veterans and their friends and families from all over the state to memorialize the event of 1898. These gatherings continued well into the Depression era. Professor Feuer is currently working on a video about Virden and another on Mother Jones is in the works.
Mother Jones

Mother Jones was frequently the headline speaker. It was on one such occasion that Mother Jones emotionally declared her wish to be buried with her "boys" in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive. That cemetery had been founded following the Battle of Virden to receive the remains of local miners who had gone to Virden in support of fellow union members on strike.

This new destination point is a fitting place to visit for all those who support the cause of working people. There they can contemplate struggles of the past with reverence and strengthen their spirit of dedication and determination.

Virden is twenty miles south of Springfield on Illinois Route 4.

Labor Beat has produced a documentary of the event. Click here to inquire about video copies.

ILHS Union Hall of Honor 2006

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The gracious ballroom of the 19th Century Club of Oak Park was the scene as ILHS celebrated the 110th Anniversary of the Iron Workers' International Association.

As the diners assembled, they were treated to a running show of Iron Workers in the process of building Chicago's famous skyline and its newest playground Millennium Park. The festive dinner was chaired by ILHS President Larry Spivack. He introduced Vice President Bill Adelman who presented a fascinating and authoritative slide show about the history of the Union.

Alma Washington followed with a reading from Carl Sandburg's poem "Skyscrapers." Fellow AFTRA-SAG actors, Gary Brichetto and David Nisbet read "Something to Point To" from the musical Working, drawn from the book of the same name by Studs Terkel. Joe Bella of AFSCME presented some historic labor songs.

After dinner, Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, introduced the guest speaker Joseph J. Hunt, General President of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. Hunt delivered a spirited address, concluding with a declaration that he was committed to a policy of labor unity and would work ceaselessly to maximize cooperation despite structural differences.

Eric Dean, president of the District Council covering locals in Northern Illinois and Indiana said a few words.

President Emeritus Leslie Orear presided over the Union Hall of Honor Induction Ceremony. He presented the handsome plaques citing two Chicago Iron Workers, one historical and one contemporary. The first was George W. Geary, leader of Chicago's Bridge Builders Mutual Association (now Local 1) organized in the 1880s. Robert Boskovich, president of Local 1, received the handsome plaque for display in the union's offices.

In 1896, through Geary's inspiration, the International Association was formed. Geary was appointed the first International Organizer. A plaque citing him as "Founding Father" of the International was accepted by General President Joseph J. Hunt for a place of honor at national headquarters in Washington, DC.

The second inductee was Richard Rowe, a Business Agent/Organizer of Architectural Iron Workers Local 63 and the historian of the Iron Workers' Union. Rowe teaches Labor History to union apprentices in the Chicago area. He also leads labor history classes at the month-long gathering of Ironworker Apprentice Trainers held each year on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. Rowe has recently updated the historical book on the Iron Workers published on the Centennial of the Union in 1996.

The evening closed with an enthusiastic rendition of Solidarity Forever. The entire event was taped for later telecast on CAN TV, Chicago's public access cable network.

Report on ILHS-CFL May Day Event

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Chicago workers celebrated May Day with an afternoon rally in Haymarket Square by the Memorial Sculpture at Randolph and DesPlaines. The crowd cheered the presentation of a plaque from the AFL-CIO to be attached to the base of the Monument. Last year's plaque came from the Chicago Federation of Labor. Other plaques have been presented by unions in Iraq, Columbia, S.A., and UNI (Union Network International).

Ross Hyman, spokesman for the AFL-CIO, delivered a message from President John Sweeney, Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker. They declared: "Because we believe deeply in solidarity with workers everywhere, we're proud that the AFL-CIO now has a plaque at the place where May Day itself—the international day for workers—was born. That is happening because the Illinois Labor History Society and the Chicago Federation of Labor played a key role in the building of this monument. We will always be grateful to them for what they've done."

Continuing in the same vein, they declared: "...the best way to honor the Haymarket Martyrs is to advance the cause they fought and died for. Here and now, that means restoring the freedom of workers to organize into unions by passing the Employee Free Choice Act."

Responding for the Chicago Federation of Labor was its Secretary-Treasurer, Jorge Rodriguez. ILHS President Larry Spivack opened the meeting with welcoming remarks, and Board Member James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice acted as Master of Ceremonies.

Among those who addressed the meeting were: Tim Yeager of UAW; S. J. Hawking of ARISE; Margarita Klein, Chief of Staff, Workers United; Skippy (as he prefers to be called) of the IWW; and Armando Robles, President of UE Local 1110 that occupied Republic Windows and Doors.

Well-known folksinger Bucky Halker had the crowd singing along with him as he opened and closed the event. Worthy of note was the large number of young people, mostly from the IWW, who were present. The event was also attended by Mary Brogger, the sculptor of the Memorial. She expressed her pleasure at the appearance of the growing number of plaques from around the world.

A Glorious Labor Day 2008 in Pullman

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September 1, 2008 - It was a warm day with nothing but blue sky in Chicago on Labor Day, perfect for a picnic on the beach, yet a crowd of nearly 350 from all over the city gathered in the Pullman neighborhood on the southeast edge of the City to celebrate the meaning of the Day. The event was organized by Tom Shepherd, president of the Pullman Civic Association and hosted by the Pullman State Historic Site headquartered in the Florence Hotel.

The event took place in the state owned sleeping car factory behind the famous Pullman Clock Tower. It was a vast space in which a small stage had been constructed and folding chairs installed for the occasion.

And, what an occasion it proved to be! This was much more than the standard labor day meeting. This time the stars were Eugene V. Debs; Jennie Curtis, a leader of the 1894 Pullman Strike; A. Philip Randolph, head of the Sleeping Car Porters union; and none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal brought a much needed "Change" to Washington in 1933, almost 75 years ago. Not only did these actors bear a physical resemblance to their subjects, but each one recalled convincingly the significant episodes from their historical roles. Especially thrilling was R.J. Lindsay in the role of President Roosevelt, with his cigarette holder cocked at the correct angle, the fedora hat, the cane, even the unique speech patterns of F.D. R. Indeed, most of his words were drawn directly from F.D.R's own speeches.

[LarryFDR] Young Jennie Curtis looked perfect for the part, in a simple long cotton dress, a perky hat and a tidy apron. She told of her appearance before the 1894 convention of the American Railway Union where she described the plight of the Pullman factory workers who had suffered repeated wage cuts side by side with the same high rents charged by the company. In response to her appeal for help, the delegates voted to impose a boycott of Pullman cars with the result that trains were stopped when crew members refused to work such trains. Among the consequences were a federal injunction, the imprisonment of union president Eugene Debs, and the destruction of the union.

Eugene Debs was played by Mike Wolf, a former steelworker and area resident. He told of his radicalization while serving time in Woodstock Jail due to the federal injunction against the Pullman strike. Following his release, he became the perennial candidate of the Socialist Party, even drawing a million votes while imprisoned for opposing American involvement in World War I.

A. Philip Randolph, played by D.J. Howard with great dignity, told of the ten year struggle of the Sleeping Car Porters who ultimately organized a nation-wide union. That union under Randolph's leadership, won its first national contract in 1937. (The IILHS holds in its collections a copy of that contract booklet.)

Earlier, the Program had been opened with remarks from ILHS President Larry Spivack. Concluding remarks were offered by James Thwinda, Chicago Area Director of Jobs with Justice. Greetings in person were brought to the crowd by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and State Representative Connie Howard.

The Illinois Labor History Society was a co-sponsor of the event. Other co-sponsor organizations included the Illinois State AFL-CIO, Historic Pullman Foundation, Bronzeville Black Historical Society, Calumet Heritage Partnership, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and the Center for Working Class Studies.

ILHS Union Hall of Honor 2009

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Country-punk iconoclast Jon Langford, Woody Guthrie Archives director Nora Guthrie, union-song collector Bucky Halker, and Chicago jazz lions Jimmy Ellis, Art Hoyle and Willie Pickens will headline "Well-Sung Heroes," a very special evening of music benefiting the Illinois Labor History Society.

The concert takes place Sunday evening, Nov. 22, at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N Clark). It is the Labor History Society's annual celebration to induct worthy individuals into its Union Hall of Honor. This year's honorees are:

The late James C. Petrillo, who served as president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 10 for more than four decades beginning in 1922;

The Chicago Federation of Musicians Local 208, which represented black artists in blues, jazz and more before the unions were integrated in 1966; and

Bucky Halker, a self-described "tall man with a big voice and big songs delivered with truth, character, and conviction," a prominent scholar of working-class history and producer of "Folksongs of Illinois," a three-CD series.

Past ILHS honorees run the gamut from historical icons Mother Jones, Jane Addams and Joe Hill to artist/activists such as Studs Terkel, Paul Robeson and Upton Sinclair and politicians like Eugene Debs and alderman Leon Despres.

Tickets are $25 for the concert only or $75 including a pre-show cocktail reception with honorees, performing artists and host Dick Kay.

A commemorative art print for "Well-Sung Heroes" is being produced by Chicago poster artist Steve Walters.