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120 Years After Pullman Strike, Workers Remember Why Labor Day Exists

By Erin Meyer | September 1, 2014 8:55pm
 Protestors gather outside of the Walmart in Pullman, where workers were killed 120 years ago after they walked out of the Pullman Company to demand higher wages and protest layoffs.
Pullman Labor Day
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PULLMAN — The "greatest strike in American history" happened 120 years ago in Chicago, and it's one of the big reasons Labor Day exists.

To honor that history, a few hundred workers from all over the city gathered in Pullman Monday afternoon for a celebration that honored those who fought for workers' rights — and those who died before labor reform happened.

"I did shed a tear just sitting here thinking about what [workers] accomplished over a hundred years ago and what we're dealing with today," said 46-year-old Myron Byrd, who attended the event at the Pullman State Historic Site, 11057 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Byrd, who works overnights at Walmart in maintenance, participated in a small march that began at the site of the massive 1894 Pullman Strike and ended at the Pullman Walmart, where demonstrators called on the company to get behind the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15.

Demonstrators claim that the company doesn't pay its employees enough to get by and falls far short when it comes to health care. 

Walmart officials declined to comment on the protest.

They did however provide an employee with a positive view of the company. 

"When I hear the negativity, I don't understand it," 44-year-old Walmart employee Michelle Brown-Temple said by phone Monday night. Brown-Temple said the pay is fair and the healthcare benefits have worked for her.  

After the march, laborers and their families returned to the Pullman Strike site for musical performances and a reenactment of the strike.

"There's a history here, and there's a history of employees standing up to Walmart," Byrd said later at the Pullman State Historical Site.

Pullman, which was once touted as a model community inhabited by happy workers, erupted in protest 120 years ago when workers left their jobs to fight town founder and industrialist George Pullman in the wake of layoffs and wage cuts.

"People put their lives on the line for the things we take for granted today," said Anthony Scorzo, an electrician with the IBEW and an organizer of the event.

Scorzo, 31, said the Labor Day celebration was also part of an ongoing effort to turn the Pullman historic site into Chicago's first national park.

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