Gov. JB Pritzker says Marseilles event a time to recommit to labor protections

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Ninety years after his death, a slain Croatian immigrant of Joliet and father of four brought together Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, several notable politicians and hundreds of union members Thursday in Marseilles to commemorate his impact on the labor movement.

“Big” Steve Sutton lost his life when one of the non-union laborers fired a sawed-off shotgun toward a crowd of laborers protesting for local labor and better wages. There now is a plaque along Main Street near the bridge in Marseilles commemorating him.

“Let’s go back to the Great Depression,” said Mike Matejka, a community activist, who emceed the event. “People want to go out and work and people are hungry. On the Illinois River, the government sent in money to rebuild the dam and the local people were delighted for the new jobs.”

That is, until those people discovered residents from other parts of the country, who were hungry as well, were being shipped in to work on the project instead of using local labor.

“They marched down the street here to demand a job and demand prevailing wages for their community,” Matejka said. “They did not know they were walking into a massacre. They did not know that people were waiting for them with drawn guns and rifles to shoot them down.”

Twenty-one people were injured that day.

A crowd of about 500 assembled Thursday, April 28, 2022, on the Illinois Valley Cellular parking lot in Marseilles honoring Steve Sutton who was shot and killed during a 1932 labor strike in Marseilles.

A crowd of about 500 assembled Thursday, April 28, 2022, on the Illinois Valley Cellular parking lot in Marseilles honoring Steve Sutton who was shot and killed during a 1932 labor strike in Marseilles. (Tom Sistak for Shaw Media)

Mother Jones was quoted several times during the event, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

The events of July 19, 1932, led to the founding of Laborers International Union of North America Local 393, which is based in Marseilles.

Charles Stanley, retired Ottawa Times reporter working with the Illinois State Historical Society, said Thursday the plaque is two decades in the making thanks to the persistence of David Raikes, a retired business manager of Local 393.

“For several years I was a reporter working out of the little storefront office here and whenever the laborers finished a public service project, David believed that a photo and story in the paper was in order and he wasn’t shy about that at all,” Stanley said. “At one point, I visited the old union hall on Lincoln Street for one of the union’s legendary fish fries and saw the wall with an old newspaper story about this 1932 confrontation.”

Raikes recited the story from memory and told Stanley he thought some kind of recognition was called for.

Pritzker, Treasurer Mike Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza had the challenge of speaking following a lively set of music from Morello, but Pritzker joked Morello was just testing the stage by having people jump up and down on it and it withstood because it was built with good union labor.

“The labor movement in Illinois has deep, deep roots and (Thursday) we recommit ourselves to ensuring every workplace has strong and safe protections in place,” Pritzker told those in attendance, many of them clad in union shirts, jackets and ball caps. “We pay our respects to our union brothers and sisters who were taken from us too soon because of unjust and unsafe working conditions.”

The historical plaque in honor of Steve Sutton who was shot and killed during a 1932 labor strike in Marseilles.

The historical plaque in honor of Steve Sutton who was shot and killed during a 1932 labor strike in Marseilles. (Tom Sistak for Shaw Media)

Pritzker mentioned the Cherry Mine Disaster in neighboring Bureau County and the Ottawa Radium Girls as two labor disasters that show how necessary worker protections are.

“These were preventable losses and they sparked a cry for change that inspired us in our fight to bolster safe working conditions across the nation,” Pritzker said. “We honor the fallen as we do that work.”

Pritzker said in November, voters in Illinois will see the worker’s rights amendment on the ballot, which would make Illinois the first state to make the right to a safe work place a constitutional one.

State Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) is a union man, himself, as a member of Operating Engineers Local 150, and he spoke about the importance of Thursday’s event.

“Memorializing our fallen family is a bittersweet exercise,” Yednock said. “We want them to rest in peace while we ensure their memory lives on by educating kids about the historic sacrifices that were made right here in Marseilles.”

Yednock said the founding of Local 393 in Marseilles is a proud moment for the Illinois Valley because it’s created labor roots for the region.

“Illinois is a state with a long history of respecting worker’s rights, and the rights of people to form and join unions if they so choose,” Yednock said.

Yednock said one of his proudest moments was having his bill to ban Right to Work Zones in Illinois be one of the first bills signed by Pritzker when he took office in 2019. Pritzker reacted with eye contact and a smile.

Mendoza, Treasurer Frerichs and Attorney General Kwame Raoul also attended, along with Tim Drea from the Illinois AFL-CIO, and Brandon Phelps from ULLICO.

Hundreds gathered in the Illinois Valley Cellular parking lot Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Marseilles, across the street from the recently-erected plaque memorializing Steve Sutton who was killed in a 1932 labor riot. The event featured Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker.

Hundreds gathered in the Illinois Valley Cellular parking lot Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Marseilles, across the street from the recently-erected plaque memorializing Steve Sutton who was killed in a 1932 labor riot. The event featured Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. (Tom Sistak for Shaw Media)

via Shaw Local

April 28, 2022 at 11:03PM

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