As some mark anniversary of Bay View Massacre, another labor battle ahead, involving prevailing wage

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BAY VIEW (WITI) -- It happened 129 years ago, but many believe the fight continues to this day. Hundreds are marking the anniversary of what's known as the Bay View Massacre.

The Bay View Massacre (sometimes also referred to as the Bay View Tragedy) was the culmination of events that began on Saturday May 1st, 1886 when 7,000 building-trades workers joined with 5,000 Polish laborers who had organized at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Milwaukee to strike against their employers, demanding an eight-hour work day.

By Monday, these numbers had increased to over 14,000 workers that gathered at the Milwaukee Iron Company rolling mill in Bay View. They were met by 250 National Guardsmen under order from Republican Governor Jeremiah Rusk to "shoot to kill" any strikers who attempted to enter.

Workers camped in the nearby fields and the Kosciuszko Militia arrived by May 4th.

Early the next day, the crowd, which by this time contained children, approached the mill and were fired upon. Seven people died as a result, including a 13-year-old boy.

Since 1986, members of the Bay View Historical Society, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, and other community groups have held a commemorative event to honor the memories of those killed during the incident.

A memorial event held Sunday, May 3rd was all about the fight for an eight-hour workday, and the battle ahead, involving prevailing wage.

At the corner of Superior and Russell Sunday was a group remembering a dark period of Wisconsin's history through reenactments, songs and solidarity.

"They were called rioters, anarchists and everything else. All they wanted was a simple, fair treatment on the job. The order was given: pick out your man, take aim, and shoot to kill," Ken Germanson, a retired labor leader said.

As workers gathered Sunday, there was fear recent action toward unions -- like the controversial Act 10 and so-called "Right-to-Work" legislation being passed and signed into law in Wisconsin have set the labor movement back. This Tuesday, May 5th, the next battle begins in Madison.

Republican lawmakers are looking to repeal prevailing wage. State law says workers on state or local public works projects must be paid wages equivalent to wages for similar projects.

"Prevailing wage says, look, we`re not going to let people come in and try and underbid. We`ll look at a fair wage paid -- what the prevailing wage is -- what the market is saying it should be," Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said.

Sen. Larson says he's hopeful prevailing wage will remain untouched. Last week, Governor Scott Walker said he would consider the measure if presented as part of his upcoming budget.

"Even amongst Republicans, there is a pretty wide gap into those who want total repeal, those who want nothing, and those who want some sort of compromise in between," Walker said.

Meanwhile, there is a push by the group that gathered Sunday to write their own history.

"It does sometimes take a bit of time. In the long view, you have to say that workers eventually come together and demand a more just workplace," Candice Owley, who emceed the event Sunday said.

There will be a hearing on prevailing wage in Madison Tuesday. The measure is expected to go up for a vote by Thursday.

3 comments

  • John Smith

    “…commemorative event to honor the memories of those killed during the incident”

    As an attendee of the event, I can assure you that it was less about “honoring” the seven people that died that day 129 years ago and more about using the memory of their deaths to push a very specific, progressive political agenda. If this memorial were truly a memorial, it would have began well BEFORE 1986, a staggering 100 YEARS AFTER the event happened in 1886.

  • CYNIC

    Ya, because making people pay for their own healthcare and benefits is akin to a massacre. Bit dramatic, eh?

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