Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919

Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919

Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919

Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919

Excerpt

Until recent times, American labor history was a record chiefly of industrial war. Periodically the struggle burst into the open; mostly, it remained hidden and silent. But war it was. For men were contending for power. Should the terms of employment be fixed unilaterally by employers, or through collective bargaining with trade unions?

Employers resisted labor organization relentlessly and, for the most part, successfully. They penned the trade unions into a narrow field: the railroads, the coal mines, construction, clothing, certain skilled occupations. Early in the twentieth century, union membership leveled off at a mere one-tenth of the nonagricultural work force. Labor's signal failure occurred in the mass-production sector of the economy: motors, rubber, electric equipment, food processing, and, above all, steel. Here, at the core of American industry, a massive open shop withstood the encroachment of organized labor.

Midway through the Great Depression, the balance swung to labor's side. By 1945, the labor movement counted fifteen million members; and powerful unions engaged in collective bargaining with major industrial companies. The stage of employer rule had finally passed.

This achievement was accompanied by other notable changes. Historically, voluntarism had ruled American labor relations. Unionization, no less than the determina-

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