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Pullman, Where Labor Day Was Born, To Host Chicago’s Parade For The First Time In Decades

The 2023 parade kicks off noon Saturday and is followed by Eddie Fest, an annual celebration of workers, unions and the Chicago labor movement.

Last year's Labor Day Parade was the first since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chicago Labor Day Parade
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PULLMAN — Chicago’s Labor Day parade is moving from its longtime East Side home to Pullman this year, celebrating the neighborhood’s deep ties to the U.S. labor movement.

The 2023 Labor Day parade kicks off noon Saturday at 108th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue with more than 100 floats. The route goes south along Cottage Grove to 113th Street, then heads east before ending at St. Lawrence Avenue.

The parade is followed by Eddie Fest, a celebration of workers, unions and the Chicago labor movement. It’s named after Ed Sadlowski, a steelworker at the U.S. Steel South Works and prominent union activist.

Eddie Fest features live music, crafts, food vendors, a beer garden, an archery range, a “dry fishing” demonstration, bounce houses and other activities. It takes place 1-6 p.m. Saturday in Pullman Park, 11101 S. Cottage Grove Ave., and the adjoining Arcade Park.

The parade is organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The Labor Day parade’s move to Pullman follows the retirement of Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza — Sadlowski’s daughter — earlier this year, said Teri Gage, the superintendent of Pullman National Historic Park.

The response to the move “has been largely positive,” Gage said. “There are always a few concerns about parking, but people who live in Pullman are very proud of community and proud of their history, and excited to share it with the rest of the city.”

Pullman is home to “two watershed moments in the American labor movement,” Gage said.

Credit: Provided
Activist and newspaper publisher A. Philip Randolph was the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black union to be recognized by a major U.S. company.

The first is the Pullman Palace Car Company strike of 1894, which took place when the company cut workers’ pay but did not reduce costs of living in its company town.

The Pullman strike was so effective in disabling the nation’s railroads that the federal government resorted to military force in order to break the strike, leaving a couple dozen people dead.

The strike is “indirectly responsible for us having a national Labor Day holiday,” Gage said, as President Grover Cleveland declared the holiday amid the walkout in an effort to appease striking union members.

The second pivotal moment is the formation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925, Gage said. It became the first Black workers’ union to negotiate a contract with a major corporation when its members struck a deal with the Pullman company in 1937.

The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S. Maryland Ave., was created in 1995 to honor the Black men who were an integral part of the Pullman railcar company. The museum uses photography, videos and other archival material to teach visitors about the porters.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ray and Alfonso Quiroz, brothers who worked at Pullman, pose for a photo on the 111th Street Metra platform with he Northern Dreams observation car, which was built by Pullman-Standard in 1955 for the Northern Pacific Railroad, at the grand opening of the Pullman National Monument on Sept. 3, 2021.

Pullman residents Al and Ray Quiroz will participate in the parade as guests of the Illinois Labor History Society.

The brothers were employees of the Pullman company from the mid- to late-20th century, with Al Quiroz as a building and railcar maintenance worker and Ray Quiroz working in various departments. They believe they’re the last Pullman employees to still live in the neighborhood, they said.

Pullman is “a wonderful place to live — I was born here, and that’s the only place that I really know,” Ray Quiroz said. “I’ve seen changes as far as more people coming in to the area [since its 2021 designation as a national park]. It’s enjoyable to see these people come in and see the Pullman area.”

Al Quiroz is a collector of Pullman memorabilia including train car parts, building blueprints, doorknobs and more.

Several pieces from his 300-item collection are on display at the Pullman national park’s visitors center, 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave., and in the Field Museum’s Calumet Voices, National Stories exhibit that runs through the end of the year.

As union retirees, the Quiroz brothers are elated to see the city’s Labor Day parade come to their neighborhood, they said. They plan to share their stories with attendees of the parade and Eddie Fest while taking in “plentiful” food and activities, they said.

“Thank god for the union,” Al Quiroz said. “I was entitled to retire at the age of 45.”

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