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Milwaukee commemorates the 137th anniversary of the Bay View Massacre

By William Schroeder |
May 16, 2023
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Alan Chavoya, representing the Coalition to Save St. Francis, keynotes the progr
Alan Chavoya, representing the Coalition to Save St. Francis, keynotes the program for the Bay View Massacre Commemoration. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Milwaukee, WI - On Sunday, May 7, 150 people gathered for the annual commemoration of the Bay View Massacre. 137 years ago, in May 1886, over 14,000 union workers gathered outside the Milwaukee Iron Company Rolling Mill in demand of an eight-hour workday. These unionists had shut down every single business in the city of Milwaukee except the rolling mills in Bay View. As they were marching towards the mills, Governor Jeremiah Rusk ordered 250 national guard members be posted outside to prevent any striker from entering - these orders included shooting the marchers on sight and resulted in the death of seven people and many others injured. 

This year’s commemoration saw new faces in leading roles as the Wisconsin Labor History Society sought to bring in young union leaders of Milwaukee. Piper Hogan, a militant member of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and active within the Young Workers Committee of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, was the host for the event and stressed the importance of honoring labor history events in our community as a reminder that workers’ rights are still under attack today. There was a powerful balance between Piper’s speaking and the theatrics of the reenactment of the tragedy, which included 20-foot tall puppets.

The event concluded with a speech by Alan Chavoya, a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 212 and the outreach chair for the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which represented the Coalition to Save Saint Francis Hospital and their struggle to reopen the labor and delivery unit there. He connected the struggles of the past to the struggles of the present.

"Thousands marched, and what did the Rolling Mill do? They deployed the local militia, killing seven people. Rolling Mill’s legacy is one that is aligned with violent repression of workers in our city. Whether it was in the 1920s and 30s when the police would be deployed against the workers on strike, or the police killing working-class Black and Latino people in Milwaukee. That’s their history," Chavoya said.

He continued, "Our history is the history of the thousands of brave workers who led the struggle 137 years ago. Of the seven martyrs. This is the history that the Coalition to Save Saint Francis Hospital is carrying forward."

Chavoya spoke on how the health care company Ascension has already created unsafe working conditions by severely understaffing its hospitals, which in turn creates an unsafe hospital for the community. Ascension has a history of closing down departments in an effort to cut costs - with labor and delivery units being the first department to shut down at other facilities before the company shuts down the entire hospital. Alan said the coalition demands Ascension reopen the labor and delivery unit at Saint Francis and will refuse to allow the company to shut down access to any other services at the hospital.

"So, as we continue with today’s commemoration of the people killed in the Bay View Massacre, we must recognize," Chavoya said, "that the major victories in our city to advance the interest of our people come from organized workers and community organizations forging an alliance capable of fighting back!"