William Z. Foster: THE GREAT STEEL STRIKE AND ITS LESSONS

THE great steel strike lasted three months and a half. Begun on September 22, 1919, by 365,000 men quitting their places in the iron and steel mills and blast furnaces in fifty cities of ten states, it ended on January 8, 1920, when the organizations affiliated in the National Committee for Organizing Iron and Steel Workers voted to permit the 100,000 or more men still on strike to return to work upon the best terms they could secure.

The steel manufacturers "won" the strike. By forcing an unconditional surrender, they drove their men back to the old slavery. This they accomplished in their wonted and time-honored way by carrying on a reign of terror that outraged every just conception of civil and human rights. In this unholy task they were aided by a crawling, subservient and lying press, which spewed forth its poison propaganda in their behalf; by selfish and indifferent local church movements, which had long since lost their Christian principles in an ignominious scramble for company favors; and by hordes of unscrupulous municipal, county, state and federal officials, whose eagerness to wear the steel collar was equalled only by their forgetfulness of their oaths of office. No suppression of free speech and free assembly, no wholesale clubbing, shooting and jailing of strikers and their families was too revolting for these Steel Trust1 hangers-on to carry out with relish. With the notable exception of a few honorable and courageous individuals here and there among these hostile elements, it was an alignment of the steel companies, the state, the courts, the local churches and the press against the steel workers.

Upon the ending of the strike the steel workers got no direct concessions from their employers. Those who were able to evade the bitter blacklist were compelled to surrender their union cards and to return to work under conditions that are a shame and a disgrace. They were driven back to the infamous peonage system with its twelve hour day, a system which American steel workers, of all those in the world, alone have to endure. In England, France, Italy and Germany, the steel workers enjoy the right of a voice in the control of their industry; they regularly barter and bargain with their employers over the questions of hours, wages and working conditions; they also have the eight hour day. One must come to America, the land of freedom, to find steel workers still economically disfranchised and compelled to work

____________________

From The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons by William Z. Foster, pp. 1-4, 8-10, 13-19, 21, 23- 30, 32-35, 37, 40-49, 68-69, 74-88, 90-91, 93-94, 96-97, 99-101, 105-106, 109. Copyright 1920, by B. W. Heubsch, Inc., New York. Reprinted by permission of The Viking Press, Inc.

1
Throughout this book the term "Steel Trust" is used to indicate the collectivity of the great steel companies. It is true that this is in contradiction to the common usage, which generally applies the term to the United States Steel Corporation alone, but it is in harmony with the facts. All the big steel companies act together upon all important matters confronting their industry. Beyond question they are organized more or less secretly into a trust. This book recognizes this situation, hence the broad use of the term "Steel Trust." It is important to remember this explanation. Where the writer has in mind any one company that company is named.

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