Grassroots Democracy: Illinois Labor Journeys
A Road Scholar Program by Mike Matejka
Sep 18, 2024
Illinois was critical to workers’ finding their democratic voice through labor organization. From Chicago’s Haymarket Square to southern Illinois coal mines, workers struggled to build unions, create safe work environments, and find a community voice through their united efforts.
In building these organizations workers often faced state repression and learned how to organize across ethnic, racial, and gender lines.
Workers like the Ottawa Illinois Radium Girls fearlessly stood up after their occupational exposure doomed them, helping create legislation to protect all workers. Women workers found their own voice and often built alliances with middle-class women to ensure their rights.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters faced discriminatory unions and built their own organization over a 12-year struggle to ensure representation.
Democracy is not just elections; it is “small d” democracy, too—workers finding their voice through organization and becoming critical community participants and workplace advocates.
Join Mike Matejka for this look at labor organizing in Illinois.