“Politics is the science of how who gets what, when, and
—Sidney Hillman, President of the CIO
No one could be sure whether it was due to demands of the war in Europe or to programs of the New Deal, but throughout 1940 the U.S. the economy was on the upswing. Reports in the second week of February, 1941, revealed that 1940 earnings of the five biggest U.S. steelmakers had made a dizzy surge. U.S. Steel, biggest of the five, earned $102 million— its highest since 1930. Bethlehem Steel, number two company with earnings of $48 million, set an all-time record with income well over its 1929 high water mark. Republic Steel’s earnings of $21 million was twice as high as its best previous year. Jones and Laughlin with an income of more than $10 million was at its highest since 1929. National Steel—the only steel company to have shown a profit in 1932—gained a healthy 12% in 1940 over its 1939 earnings.
The year of 1940 had been relatively quiet on the labor front, but in the year that followed strikes broke out like freckles under a Kansan sun. In 1941 one out of every twelve workers would go out on strike—a percentage exceeded only in the years of 1919 and 1937. Disputes were not only over wages, but over work conditions, work loads, hours, and jurisdictional authority as well.