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Telling the untold story of Illinois labor

Wed, Apr 10, 2013

The Haymarket Martyrs Memorial

Illinois has always played a major role in the history of organized labor. The Haymarket Tragedy, Pullman Strike, Virden Mine Wars, Memorial Day Massacre, Mother Jones, A. Phillip Randolph, John L. Lewis and Lucy Parsons are just a few of the historic events and union leaders that are part of the state’s rich labor history.

There is a coordinated and well-financed campaign to discredit unions in the eyes of the American people and to blame organized labor for America’s economic woes. This shameful campaign is designed to ensure that our story is NOT told about how workers and unions built the middle class. How are unions being portrayed in our schools, movies, the press and media outlets? Why do Americans no longer understand how unions and their heroes and heroines helped bring an end to child labor, helped create public education, helped build the nation’s social safety net and push successfully for health and safety on the job, while raising the standard of living for all even non-union members? Why do most people know so little about such labor leaders as Richard Trumka, A. Phillip Randolph, Samuel Gompers, Cesar Chavez, Lucy Parsons or John L. Lewis?

Founded in 1969, the Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS) is the nation’s oldest and one of the most successful labor history organizations. It is a not-for-profit organization of union activists, artists, musicians, educators, actors, historians and labor allies. It seeks to preserve labor history and to promote public appreciation of the labor movement’s role in its struggle to create a more just society. Membership dues, contributions, book sales, tour fees, and education programs provide the funding for the organization. In recognition of the quality of its work, the Society has received the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

ILHS has accomplished much. It played a key role in winning National Historic Landmark status for the Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, the gravesite of Mother Jones, the Great Stone Gate of the Chicago Stockyards and the world’s most important labor history site, the Haymarket Martyrs Memorial Monument in Forest Park, for which the ILHS is the deed holder and caretaker.

The ILHS achieved recognition of the fight for the Eight Hour Day that played out in Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886. In 2004, 35 years after our founding, we were successful in helping secure that recognition with the dedication of the statue at the very site of the Haymarket Tragedy. Every year since we have held May Day celebrations at Haymarket Square with plaque dedications from labor federations all around the world. The Society conducts tours, education programs and public exhibits on Illinois labor history. It has also commissioned murals, produced films and sponsored the publication of books. We are continuing to push enforcement of legislation to require the teaching of labor history in our schools.

The labor movement has a great story to tell. For the past 44 years, ILHS has provided the public the true story of labor in Illinois counteracting the negative portrayal of anti-union propaganda.

For more information, visit our website at: www.illinoislaborhistory.org or call 312.663.4107. Individual membership in ILHS is $30 annually. Organizational and union affiliations are $200; those with fewer than 100 members pay only $100.

Written by Tom Suhrbur,
StreetWise Contributor

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