On May 30, 1937, Memorial Day, Chicago police opened fire on unarmed workers demonstrating against Republic Steel in the midst of the "Little Steel" strike of 1937, killing 10 people and wounding dozens more. Most of the workers were shot in the back as they fled. Another 28 were injured by police clubbing, 9 of them permanently disabled.
In the wake of the massacre, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt—a Democrat and purportedly a "friend of labor"—pointedly refused to condemn the murders or intervene in the strike in favor of the steel workers' union federation, then called the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO), which had backed him in the 1936 elections. (The following year, the CIO would be transformed into the Congress of Industrial Organizations.) Roosevelt instead issued his infamous "plague on both your houses" remark, largely blaming the workers for the violence.
The striking steel workers were demanding recognition of their union, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), which would in 1942 become the United Steel Workers of America (USW). SWOC was part of the CIO, which had recently broken from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). For decades, the AFL, a federation dominated by craft unions, had suffocated efforts to organize workers in basic industry.
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