Grassroots Democracy: Illinois Labor Journeys

A Road Scholar Program by Mike Matejka

Mike Matejka

Sep 12, 2024


Riverside Public Library
1 Burling Rd
Riverside, IL 60546



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.

Pullman porters ottawa radium girls4

Left: Pullman Porters; Right: Next to the 'Radium Girls' statue, Rose Baima, who worked at Luminous Process, holds a photo of her and her co-workers during the 1940's

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.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Brent Bowles at

Learn more about Mike Matejka, this program, and how to book it here.

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