The Death of “Big Steve” Sutton and the Birth of Laborers’ Local Union 393 Historical Marker Dedication
Join us in Marseilles on April 28, for the dedication of The Death of “Big Steve” Sutton and the Birth of Laborers’ Local Union 393 historical marker.
In 1932 the national economic crisis of the Great Depression was still growing. Workers had no legal right to organize unions and had little power individually to prevent lowering standards of living. But an unemployed movement had formed. Near this site, the Marseilles Dam on the Illinois River was being renovated with federal and state funds. Contractors brought in out-of-state workers, paying them below area wages, On July 18, 1932, 300 unemployed Illinois workers gathered to demand those jobs but were turned away. They returned to picket the next day and found the company had set up a barricade and armed its workers with guns and dynamite. When union workers approached a company car, the non-union workers thought it was an attack and fired on the pro-union workers who responded with rocks and clubs. During a brutal half-hour fight, dozens of union men were hit by buckshot or clubbed. One union man, “Big Steve” Sutton, 47, a Croatian immigrant ironworker from Joliet, was fatally shot in the head and abdomen with dozens of buckshot pellets from a sawed-off shotgun. None of the non-union men were injured. The company soon agreed to allow unionization and to stop undercutting local workers’ wages with out-of-state workers. The next year Laborers International Union of North America Local 393 was founded to represent area laborers. This was one incident of many by workers to raise wages and reduce the arbitrary power of management. In 1935 Congress finally gave workers the legal right to organize.
Music by Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine
Comments from ULLICO CEO Edward M. Smith and others.
Illinois Valley Cellular Parking Lot
200 Riverfront Drive (Intersection of Main and Mill Street/Riverfront Drive)
Marseilles, IL (Map)