Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War hit the streets of Manhattan to launch Operation First Casualty which simulated sniper fire and mass detentions. In the process producing some fantastic anti-war theatrics and bringing the reality of the war back home for all to see.
The Police perform during the opening concert of the Reunion Tour in Vancouver, Canada.
“We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice”
-Julia Ward Howe
José Antonio Gutierrez was one of the 300,000 soldiers sent by US Army to war in Iraq. A few hours after the war began, his picture was broadcast all over the world: he was the first American soldier to be killed in the war.
He was there as a so-called ‘green-card soldier’ — one of approximately 32,000, fighting in the ranks of the US Army for a foreign country.
Searching for the images and stories that made up this life, we set out to retrace José Antonio’s path — from Guatemala through Mexico and into the USA. This story is told by the people who knew José Antonio: his friends from the street, the social workers at the orphanage, his sister, his foster family, his comrades at Camp Pendleton in the United States Marines.
But the narrators of the film are also the people we encountered as we were repeating José Antonio’s odyssey from the world of the poor to the world of the rich. People who day after day join the endless stream of emigrants — with no identity, no papers — equipped with nothing but their ability to work and their willingness to turn their backs on home and family forever.
José Antonio’s story is no adventurer’s tale. It is the story of an attempt to survive — on both sides of the world.
1000 striking steel workers (and members of their families), on their way to picket at the Republic Steel plant in south Chicago where they were organizing a union, were stopped by the Chicago Police.
In what became known as the “Memorial Day Massacre,” police shot and killed 10 fleeing workers, wounded 30 more, and beat 55 so badly they required hospitalization.
The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937
The 1930s was a period of economic unrest for the United States. Following the prosperous “roaring twenties”, the Great Depression hit the general population hard. Many employees were fired and those who were not lost much of their former salary.
Then, in 1933, as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the National Recovery Act was passed. One of its most important concessions to laborers was the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.
The number of strikes nationwide grew to the highest amount in American history.
When the National Recovery Act was declared unconstitutional in 1935, Congress was still sympathetic to the young labor unions that had been formed under it. They soon passed the Wagner Act, or National Labor Relations Act, to reassert the rights of the laborers.
By the 1930s the steel industry had survived much adversity, yet there were still changes to come.
The Committee for Industrial Organization, (CIO), was founded in November 1935.
Encouraged by the CIO, the steel industry became one of the first to begin organizing under the Wagner Act. Accordingly, on June 17, 1936 The Steel Workers Organizing Committee, (SWOC), was created.
The industry itself did not accept this movement.
Many companies began to stock up on tear-gas, firearms, and ammunition as well as, refining their espionage and police systems.
After a long struggle for further organization and acceptance within the steel industry, the United States Steel Corporation, (the leading producer of steel, dubbed “Big Steel”), signed an agreement recognizing SWOC.
This contract allowed for five dollar a day wages in addition to a 40-hour week with time-and-a-half for overtime. By May 1937, there were 110 firms under contract.
Still, some companies refused to sign. In response, SWOC called its first strike involving 25,000 workmen against Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation. Thirty-six hours later, the corporation agreed to a Labor Board election.
The union won 17,028 to 7,207.
Despite this enormous victory, a combination of “Little Steel” companies including Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel, Inland Steel, and Youngstown Sheet & Tube, refused to sign.
Their leaders had strong anti-union attitudes and felt that the U.S. steel decision to “surrender” to SWOC was a betrayal. Tom Girdler, chairman of the Board of Republic Steel, was one particularly influential anti-union spokesperson.
The company anticipated a strike so they placed a stockpile of industrial munitions at various plants of Republic Steel.
Then, on May 26, 1937, SWOC decided to strike three of the “Little Steel” companies: Republic, Youngstown Sheet & Tube, and Inland. Most of the plants ceased production during the strike; they were willing to wait it out because the steelworkers’ union strike benefits were meager.
Picket lines were set up at these plants to prevent any attempt to reopen them.
However, Republic Steel remained defiant and refused to close all of its plants. They even housed non-union workers in the plant, so they could continue working without the hassle of picket lines outside.
One of these plants was the Republic Steel South Chicago Plant.
One half of this plant’s 2,200 employees had joined the strike. When the walkout began on May 26, the police interfered in an attempt to prevent other non-committed workers from joining the cause.
The SWOC organizers attempted to form a picket line in front of the gate.
Police Captain James Mooney, despite the fact that the picketers were peaceful, broke up the line and arrested 23 people who refused to move. The rest were forced to 117th Street, 2 blocks from the plant.
Because of this action, the police no longer played an impartial role in the strike. Instead, they were clearly supportive of Republic.
Strike headquarters were established in Sam’s Place, at 113th and Green Bay Avenue.
Chicago mayor, Edward J. Kelley, announced in the Chicago Tribune that peaceful picketing would be permitted.
In response to this article, the strikers attempted to establish pickets, but were turned away.
On the next day, at around 5:00 PM, another attempt was made to picket. The marchers marched from Sam’s Place to 117th Street. There were a few policemen present, but the marchers continued west towards Burley Avenue.
Once the marchers reached Buffalo the police line had strengthened a great deal. The workers continued and fighting broke out. The police used clubs to fight the workers back. A few had drawn revolvers without orders and discharged them in the air. No one was killed, but there were several bloody heads.
May 28 was a quiet day, but the marchers were upset with police actions.
Nick Fontecchio, a Union leader, called for a mass meeting at Sam’s Place the next day, Memorial Day Sunday. Captain Mooney received an anonymous report that on Sunday an attempt would be made to invade the plant to drive out the remaining non-union workers. He did not check the rumor, but proceeded to station 264 policemen on duty at the Republic Steel Mill.
By 3:00 p.m. on May 30, 1937, a crowd of around 1500 strikers had gathered. It was a sunny, warm day with the temperature at around 88 degrees.
Many of the union members and supporters had brought along their wives and children to join in this almost festive gathering organized by SWOC leader Joe Hunt. Several speakers addressed various labor issues most importantly, the right to organize and picket.
Some resolutions were approved to send to government officials concerning police conduct at the Republic plant. It was then moved to march to the plant and establish a mass picket.
When this was approved about 1000 people went into formation behind two American flags. Instead of marching south down Green Bay Avenue, they turned onto a dirt road across a open prairie chanting, “CIO, CIO!”
When the police, saw this they moved their position from 117th street between Green Bay and Burley Avenue to across the dirt road, just north of 117th on Burley.
The 200 police were in double file and watched the approaching marchers with their clubs drawn. The Republic mill had armed some of the officers with non-regulation clubs and tear gas.
The marchers met the police line and demanded that their rights to picket be recognized by the police letting them through.
They were “commanded in the name of the law to disperse”, but the picketers persisted. This continued for several minutes. While marchers armed themselves with rocks and branches, foul language was passed between the two parties. Tension was mounting.
Recording all of this was cameraman Orland Lippert. Unfortunately, he was changing lenses at the start of the actual violence. This has caused some dispute as to which side initiated the fighting. The following account, determined at the hearings under Senator Robert LaFollette, is generally accepted.
Police were trying to prevent marchers from outflanking their line.
As some strikers began to retreat a stick flew from the back of the line towards the police. Instantaneously, tear gas bombs were thrown at the marchers.
The next few moments were total chaos.
More objects were thrown at the police by the marchers.
Acting without orders, several policemen in the front drew their revolvers and fired point blank at the marcher’s ranks, many of whom were beginning to retreat.
The actual shooting only continued for fifteen seconds, but the violence did not end there.
Using their clubs, the police beat anyone in their paths, including women and children.
During this time, arrests were also made. Patrol wagons were filled to twice the mandated capacity of 8 prisoners. The injured were not even taken directly to local hospitals.
As a result of this atrocity, four marchers were fatally shot and six were mortally wounded. Thirty others suffered gunshot wounds.
Thirty-eight were hospitalized due to injuries from the beatings and still thirty more required other medical treatment.
It is noteworthy that all but four of the fifty-four gunshot wounds were to the side or back and one victim was shot four times.
There were minor police casualties with thirty-five reported injuries, (no gunshot wounds), but only three needed overnight hospital care.
After the riot, sympathetic strikers fervently protested the police brutality. On the other hand, the press, especially the Chicago Tribune, portrayed the marchers as communist conspirators who had essentially attacked the police and attempted to throw out non-union workers.
The LaFollette Committee investigated this tragedy and came to four conclusions.
First, the police had no right to limit the number of peaceful pickets and that the march was not aimed at freeing remaining plant workers.
Second, the police should have halted the march with limited violence, if this action is even justifiable.
Third, the force used by the police was excessive and the marcher’s only methods of provocation were abusive language and throwing of isolated missiles.
Fourth, the police could have avoided the bloodshed.
In addition to those killed in the Memorial Day Massacre, 6 other union members lost their lives in pickets of the “Little Steel” strike of 1937.
In fact, the “Little Steel” strike is surpassed by few in the areas of viciousness, press distortion, suppression of rights, and police brutality.
The strike was called off when the many hardships suffered began to demoralize union workers. However, in August of 1941, under legal pressure, the Little Steel companies agreed to cease the committing of unfair labor practices.
A year later, they signed their first contract recognizing the new union, United Steelworkers of America.
The massacre has been referred to as the “blackest day of modern labor history”, but the sacrifices of these workers were not in vain. Little Steel had only delayed the inevitable march of unionism in America.
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe