Laborpaste In Gary

While driving through Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood in last days of January 2016 I was delighted to see a familiar face. It was that of Eugene Debs, legendary Hoosier radical, looking triumphant and happy, waving his hat from the first floor fire-escape of a boarded-up tenement. The life-size photograph was from the day of his release from prison in February 1921 after serving three years for sedition for his outspoken opposition to the Great War.

More familiar faces greeted me when I returned to Pullman in May. Dolores Huerta, another Debs, a piercing-eyed Pullman porter (which honestly I first thought was someone peeing in the alley), and even more labor heroes appearing beyond the immediate neighborhood: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, A Philip Randolph, a young Caesar Chavez, Lucy Parsons, even Debs’ beloved hunting dog Babe.

I was in the neighborhood that day to help with an art-build for the upcoming Break Free Midwest protest. Some kind Pullman artists offered us space in the massive former Pullman Administration Building, now a national park. As I explained how excited I was to see Debs to the man unlocking the building he turned to me and said, “Well I put them up!”

His name is JB Daniels, the project is called Laborpaste, and it has since expanded to Terre Haute (Debs’ hometown) and now Gary, Indiana. Here’s JB at his home studio in Pullman:

In the spirit of the project we’ll let you find these for yourself and we’ll enjoy watching them fade away over time.

1937 Memorial Day Massacre

30 May 2017 update: This weekend I spoke with a union leader who knows of at least one person still alive who witnessed the Memorial Day Massacre. He told me she was seven at the time, making her 87 years today.

East Side Chicago, IL The 1937 Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel on Chicago’s far East Side is an incident at the historical juncture of living memory and The Ages. My guess is that all eye-witnesses to the violence have now since left this Earth. While film footage exists, it is black and white, a bit grainy, and lacks the decisive moment. Yet this moment still feels near enough in time to us. The cameraman may not have caught the start of the police onslaught against the striking steelworkers, but film footage of the aftermath is brutal. And much like the late 1930s, newspapers are again filled with stories of economic misery, union action and the right of collective bargaining, and police brutality.

During the height of the Occupy moment I was asked by my friend Mariame Kaba of Project NIA to produce a zine for teens and young adults, part of a series on historical moments of police violence. I eagerly took the opportunity, considering it my little contribution to a then-ranging debate: “Are the police part of the ‘99%’?” Those who wouldn’t be informed by history would soon be convinced by the way things played out on the streets, and continue to play out, as the violent response to Black Lives Matter shows.

republic steel massacre memorial

Alfred Causey
Anthony Taglien
Earl Handley
Hilding Anderson
Joseph Rothmund
Kenneth Reed
Lee Tisdale
Leo Francisco
Otis Jones
Sam Popovich


As I detail in the zine, the labor movement and its allies had to immediately and has to continuously guard the history of this event. That duty has been boldy undertaken by the next generation of human rights activists. The following photos by Sarah-Ji Pix and Tea Cal document Chicago City Hall on 18 March 2015, when supporters of the now-successful Reparations Ordinance staged a pop-up art exhibit and teach-in on the history of police violence in Chicago.

One participant, Monica Trinidad – an excellent organizer who grew up near the site of the attack – spoke to the legacy of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre:

As a child, passing by 118th and Avenue O (closest accessible intersection to Burley) meant nothing more to me than the freakishly large, open field we happened to pass by on the way to the strip mall. As I grew much older, I began to notice the mysterious composition of silver poles on a slab of concrete situated across from the freakishly large, open field, glistening under the hot summer sun, and wondered what its purpose was.

It wasn’t my family, nor my friends, community, or even history books that taught me about the Memorial Day Massacre. It was, in fact, a piece of art that taught me. This grand, steel sculpture, created by former Republic Steel worker Ed Blazak, opened the doorway for me to learn about the horrific police violence that occurred in my very own backyard. The sculpture includes 10 steel pipes, representing both the smokestacks of the ten steel mills that existed in the area at the time and the 10 people murdered by the Chicago Police on that fatal Memorial Day in 1937.

Powerful Testimony – Local 7-1

East Chicago, IN – A panel on the topic of raising the minimum wage last evening ended with powerful and extemporaneous oratory from a Local 7-1 member.

Good evening everyone. My name is Ebonie Parker. I am a third generation union member. My grandmother started at US Steel Coke Plant back in the ’70s. She retired in the late ’90s. She was a 1014 member, and she worked tirelessly with her union, and I saw that as a very young kid.

I watched my mom, who was a very proud SEIU member. She works for Methodist Hospital in Gary, Indiana. I watched her at the age of 17, on the picket line with her union, and even at that time I didn’t recognize the value of a union.

I was blessed to forward in life, in my endeavors, and took at job at BP right here in Whiting.

Many people here know that we’re currently on the picket line. I’m here today because I want people to understand why we’re on the picket line. We’re not there for the wages. The Lord has blessed each and everyone of us to make a very good wage over there. We’re on that line for safety issues. And I want to go home at night. This is my nephew, who I hope to be a fourth-generation union member. And I’m going to continue to work in whatever endeavor I can to make sure to show him and the remaining members of my family what union workers do, what they stand for, and what they’re about.

So just to clear up a few things, because we’re not on the line for wages. We have a couple different things going on. Locally and both nationally. This is a nation fight, this isn’t just local. Our local issues, which I am more versed in, those actual issues I’m just going to speak quickly on those.

We have a couple different things in our contract, I don’t know if anybody here has seen a union contract and what it looks like, but the language is quite tricky if you don’t know what you’re really reading. But there’s a section called 2.15D that basically is interpreted as the union bargaining rights. The company wants to take that completely out of our contract. So what that’s going to do, it’s gonna allow them to be able to change our schedules, change our jobs, duties, classifications, wages, and ultimately it weakens the union. And what my president would say is puts us as a union on paper. At that point the union won’t be able to negotiate or bargain for us.

There’s also another issue about the policy that says they have the right to work us nineteen 12-hour shifts in a row without giving us on off day. (This agitated many in the audience: “Nineteen 12-hour shifts?” “That’s crazy.”) I’m gonna repeat that: They have the right to work us nineteen 12-hour shifts in a row without giving us an off day. (“Nineteen?”). One-nine. The one before twenty. (“Twelve hours?” “They can do that now?”)

Also with these nineteen 12-hour shifts there’s such thing as a ‘draft.’ In that draft it says that if my relief calls off, and if no one can cover that’s currently on shift then I’m forced to stay an additional 6 hours. That puts me at 18 hours. Either I can do 18 or go and rest for 6 and come back and do my own 12. Or I can go knowing that I have to be back in 6 hours and work then next 18, which would go to my next 12 hour shift. So 18 hours, it’s nothing to sneeze at. These are the types of conditions we’re working in in the refinery and this is what we’re fighting for in our contract, this fatigue policy. We need that lowered. If anyone wants to talk about wages at that point that means it’s gonna be taking the overtime that we really don’t want. We would prefer that they actually hire more staff. (Applause.)

And there’s one other thing. We have maintenance workers doing routine maintenance Our units are running by our operators, 7-1 operators. Our maintenance employees are the ones that do the routine maintenance on our equipment and what’s happening is the company is contracting jobs to others, either union or non-union members for the routine maintenance. Now I’m not standing here to tell you that we don’t want the company to contract to other union members. That’s not what I’m saying. But for the equipment that we know, that we operate, that we work on, allow our union members, our union brothers to retain that work.

There are new projects coming up that we encourage the company to hire the laborers for, the electrical unions, the carpenters unions, whatever work that needs to be done for these new and improved ventures that the company has coming up, we encourage that. We’re not being selfish. Because those same union brothers are the ones standing with us on the lines right now. So we encourage them to be able to employ these other unions when they have brothers and sisters that are in need of the work, to stay in comfort and provide for their families.

Now I know this may not mean a whole lot to you, but I’m grateful for the opportunity that my president is giving me, Dave Danko. My vice-president, Steve Halajcsik, and my entire division representatives, and the 7-1 members for allowing me to be able to speak on those things that the communities need to hear.

But one last thing that I want you guys to hear. It’s that we’re not just standing on that line for us. We’re standing on that line for the city of East Chicago. We’re standing on that line for the city of Hammond. We’re standing on that line for the city of Whiting. And every other community that will be affected by any major issues that happen within that refinery. It doesn’t just affect us. Yes, I’m a single parent of a 15 year old daughter, who I want to be around to see for a very long time. But if they continue to work us this way it’s gonna put us in grave danger. It’s going to cause us to make more errors. It’s gonna allow for mistakes to happen that doesn’t just put that particular person in jeopardy. It affects everyone.

We need your assistance. To be able to sustain this. We need everybody’s help. We know what’s coming out of that refinery. As an EMT and a patrol officer I see the injuries firsthand. When someone gets hurt it’s me and my crew. We go get those folks out of the refinery and take them right here to East Chicago, to the hospital.

On August 27, 1955 there was an explosion at the refinery. Everybody here knows what I’m talking about. At that time my mother wasn’t even born. But I’ma tell you this: On August 27, 2014 we had another explosion, and I was there. That was my crew working. I watched them for two hours attempt to put that fire out. I saw the damage that it did to the young man that I took to the hospital. I took him to the hospital. Was he physically injured? No. But it almost broke me down to see him be an emotional wreck from the time we left that refinery to the time we got to St. Catherine’s. He wanted to make sure everybody got out. That man is a hero. He saved the lives of so many people. He saved further damage from being done to the equipment inside of that refinery. I have not seen that man since that day. And it’s been several days since then, but I will never forget the look on his face when he found out that everybody got out safely.

It is not just a concern of mines and that young man. It’s a concern of every single BP employee that is standing on the line right now. We will not go back into that refinery at the rate of where we are in negotiations. This is our only chance to stand and let them know we will not back down. It’s not just the 1100 members of USW 7-1 but we have SEIU. We have Local 1010. We have 1014. We have 6787. We have District 1. We have Local 1. All of District 7. I can’t even remember all the numbers for the local support we’ve had. And then we have communities. We have mayors. We have congressmen. We have so many people that have come out to stand with us, say this is only right, and we’re gonna stand with you.

There are more than several ways that you can help. If you can write a letter to OSHA, that helps. We need OSHA to be involved. If you can send a letter to the spokesperson for BP. We need him to hear your voice too. He knows what we want. If you can just express your gratitude for the opportunity that someone would stand and walk out on such a good wage job for a key issue of safety, spread that word at your churches. At your community events. On your jobs. Because I can assure you if 7-1 can help any local union, brothers, sisters, whoever. We will be there. Phone call away. I thank you for this opportunity (applause), thank you for allowing me to come here.