The Bay View Massacre, 125 years later

By - May 2nd, 2011 04:00 am

The Bay View Massacre was the culmination of nearly of week of protest, after thousands of trade workers and laborers (many of them Polish immigrants) organized a general strike in May, 1886. The strikers demand called for “8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours for what we will.”  On May 5, roughly 1,500 men, women, and even children marched to the former North Chicago Rolling Mill Co. in Bay View when Gov. Jeremiah Rusk ordered an armed militia to “shoot to kill.” The militia opened fire, and seven strikers were killed (including a young boy). Several others were wounded.

This was the bloodiest labor disturbance in Wisconsin history, however it set the stage for labor movements nationwide, advocating for a humane workplace and a more just society.

Shortly after the May Day rally and march through downtown Milwaukee on Sunday, the Milwaukee Public Theatre hosted a reenactment of the Bay View Massacre, marking the 125th anniversary of the seminal labor dispute. The park around Bay View’s Rolling Mill memorial plaque was the scene for the reenactment.

At the climax of the part-puppeteer, part-actor performance piece, the names of the men, women, and children that died in the tumult on May 5th, 1886 were read aloud: Frank Kunkel, Frank Nowarczyk, John Marsh, Robert Erdman, Johann Zazka, Martin Jankowiak and Michael Ruchalski.

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