Immigration and Labor: The Economic Aspects of European Immigration to the United States

By Isaac A. Hourwich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
THE IRON AND STEEL WORKERS

THE twelve-hour day, the twenty-four-hour shift, and Sunday labor, not as an emergency, but as an integral part of the system, have of late caused wide discussion of the iron and steel industry. The public conscience demanded to know who was responsible for those labor conditions. The offenders were easily discovered. Inasmuch as three fourths of the unskilled men working those long hours were found to the Southern and Eastern Europeans, it became evident that it was they who were to blame for accepting such intolerable working conditions. A representative of a labor constituency, speaking on the floor of Congress, declared that "in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Milwaukee, where thirty years ago the so-called princes of labor used to get from $10 to $15 a day, the modern white coolies get $1.75 for twelve hours a day, seven days in the week," the change being due to the "Slavonians, Italians, Greeks, Russians, and Armenians," who "have been brought into this country by the million" and "simply because they have a lower standard of living . . . have crowded out the Americans, Germans, Englishmen, and Irishmen," from the mills.1

Such generalizations as these represent the popular conception of the causes of long hours and low wages in the iron and steel industry. The principal fallacy underlying

____________________
1
Speech of Hon. Victor L. Berger, of Wisconsin, in the House of Representatives, Wednesday, June 14, 1911. Congressional Record, pp. 2026-2030.

-394-

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