Patronizing the Peasants
The workmen Carnegie so effusively complimented in Triumphant Democracy were not quite as pleased with their progress as their Little Boss was, and in the mid-1880s they began to agitate more vigorously for higher wages and better conditions. The capitalists were not going to be so forthcoming, however; after the economy had peaked in March 1882, a prolonged business contraction had begun and money was tight. Then, in April 1884, a financial panic was set off by a rogue Wall Street speculator, Ferdinand Ward, who had fleeced the prominent Marine Bank, as well as General Ulysses S. Grant. When Marine Bank failed, others followed and visions of the 1873 panic and subsequent depression rattled Wall Street. To survive the volatile market, Carnegie was desperate to cut costs and to solve the wage-related labor troubles that were now plaguing the iron and steel industry.
Prior to 1882, iron and steel industry strikes had been short affairs, a tolerated necessity, almost a game; but with the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers' rise in power the stakes had been raised and the conflicts escalated. Certain departments at Edgar Thomson were now union— with men joining the Amalgamated or the Knights of Labor—despite Captain Jones's best efforts to thwart them, and, as David Stewart reported to Carnegie, they were not above using violence: “There was a meeting at Braddock last night and a man by the name of J Arnold from Homestead claimed they could get their advance by Clubs—when they could not by peace.” 1 Homestead, despite now being under the Carnegie regime, remained a boiling pot, a source of wider trouble. Jones was so distressed over the Amalgamated lodges now established at Edgar Thomson that he resigned. As individuals, Jones protected his men, but not as members of a union; the union disgusted him because he felt it robbed men of their individuality. To Carnegie, the loss of a genius was far more menacing than the union, and he refused to accept the resignation. It wouldn't be the last time.