History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview
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Organizing the "Home Guard" in Steel

The leading article in the first issue of Solidarity, December 18, 1909, opened with the sentence: "The event of prime significance in the industrial history of America during the past year was the McKees Rocks strike." Since this was the year that saw "The Uprising of the 20,000," the general strike of the shirtwaist makers of New York,* the statement was dismissed in some circles as an example of boasting by the I.W.W. which had played an important role at McKees Rocks. But without in the least detracting from the significance of the other great struggle of 1909, the strike against the Pressed Steel Car Co., a U.S. Steel subsidiary, merits the place assigned to it in Solidarity. It was the first important demonstration of the fallacy of the widespread dual theory that immigrant workers were too downtrodden to resist oppression and too lacking in ability, experience, and unity to organize effectively along industrial lines.

The McKees Rocks strike was important in still another sense. It marked the first victory against the Steel Trust since the disastrous defeat Of 1901. In 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, and I908, U.S. Steel had delivered blow after blow against the organized steel workers, reducing the membership of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers from 60,000 in 1901, when the Trust was organized, to 8,000 in 1908, when it shut down the last union plant of the National Tube Co. to starve the strikers out, and transferred the work to its non-union plants. By the beginning of 1909, it appeared that J. P. Morgan had kept his word when he had promised four years before to drive unionism out of every plant in the gigantic Steel Trust. The figures spoke for themselves: 118,000 workers and 8,000 union men in these plants, the latter primarily the skilled workmen.1

This strike will be discussed in Vol. V, History of the Labor Movement in the United States.


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