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Site of great labor battles of the past

by LANCE SELFA | July 20, 2001 | Page 11

CHICAGO MAYOR Richard Daley has put a lot of effort into marketing Chicago as a tourist attraction. There's Sue, the Field Museum's $3 million Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Navy Pier, with its overpriced attractions.

But for me, the most interesting places to visit in Chicago are the reminders of the city's role in the epic labor battles of the 19th century.

Chicago workers played a central role in the three great strikes of the late 1800s--the 1877 railroad strike, the 1886 eight-hour day movement and the 1894 Pullman strike.

Jane Addams' Hull House on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago is a good place to start a visit. The exhibits at Hull House give an idea of what life was like for workers during the late 19th century--when almost half of the city's population was born in another country.

About a mile north, at the corner of Randolph and Des Plaines, is the site of probably the most famous event in Chicago labor history--the 1886 Haymarket "Riot."

Workers gathered here on May 4, 1886, to protest a police attack on striking workers at McCormick Reaper Works. At the rally, a bomb was tossed into ranks of police.

The forces of law and order went on a rampage, arresting and framing on murder charges the leaders of Chicago's eight-hour day movement. The eight-hour day movement and the Haymarket Martyrs are today commemorated around the world at May Day celebrations.

A couple of blocks south, at the freeway overpass at Washington Avenue, you can find what remains of the city's original attempts to commemorate Haymarket--a pedestal where the city once erected a statue honoring the police (!) killed by the Haymarket bomb. Workers toppled this insult to Chicago labor so many times that the city finally moved it inside police headquarters.

Another good place to visit is Chicago's historic Pullman neighborhood, located off Interstate 94 at 111th Street.

Built in 1880, Pullman was once the company town of robber baron George Pullman's railroad sleeping car company. You can walk the same streets where union leader and socialist Eugene V. Debs rallied support for the national strike in 1894 against a wage cut imposed by Pullman.

The old brick row houses in Pullman still show the class segregation of Pullman's "capitalist" utopia--it's still clear which were the managers' houses and which were the workers' houses.

The visitors' center in Pullman generally sings the company's praises, so be sure to pick up a copy of William J. Adelman's Touring Pullman, a guidebook that tells our side of the story.

One more Chicago site not to be missed is the Haymarket Martyrs' monument in Forest Home Cemetery in suburban Forest Park, just off Interstate 290 about 10 miles west of downtown Chicago.

It's the perfect place to end a long day of exploring the history of some of the most important labor battles ever fought.

For more information on the sites described here, contact the Illinois Labor History Society at 312-663-4107 or go to on the Web.

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