MASSILLON, Ohio — A solemn crowd watched as Mayor Francis Cicchinelli Jr. dedicated a plaque on the town square here to the three steelworkers killed during the historic “Little Steel” strike of 1936.

The strike kicked off a tough battle by steelworkers and other industrial workers to achieve union recognition in the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Those honored here April 28 were killed when national guardsmen and company thugs fired into a peaceful rally in front of the Republic Steel plant as the strike began.

Paul Santilli, leader of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, who was an organizer of the event, said he was “proud to see these working-class heroes finally get the recognition that they earned, at the cost of their lives. Only because these brave men, and others like them, put their lives on the line do we have a labor movement today that can fight for us.”

The best way to “honor these heroes,” Santilli said, “is to fight to stop those that are today trying to destroy our unions, steal our Social Security and wipe out our hard-won gains.”

Cicchinelli stressed the need “to be aware of the great sacrifice that it took by workers like those being honored. Without it, the steel industry wouldn’t be the vital industry that it is today and our community wouldn’t have the living standard that working people have enjoyed for years.”

Bill Burga, the fiery Ohio AFL-CIO president, spoke emotionally of his pride in being a long-time member of the United Steel Workers of America and his Massillon heritage.

“Their sacrifice made it possible for us to have unions, to have some level of dignity, for us to be able to support our families and our communities,” he said. Never more than now, Burga said, “has the courage, dignity and strength of these great heroes been so needed. We must draw strength from their sacrifice in order to build the united fight needed to protect Social Security from corporate claws, and fight to turn our nation around again.”

The Massillon event is one in a series of memorials being held around the nation to commemorate martyrs and heroes of labor’s bloody and difficult struggles to organize.