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

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
The I.W.W. and the Unemployed, 1913-1915

On April 20, 1913, a Midwest correspondent warned Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson that there was danger of an impending economic crisis, and urged that his department take steps at once to prepare to deal with "the problem of unemployment." Secretary Wilson acknowledged the letter, but assured the writer that there was no need to be worried about the state of the nation's economy.1 A few weeks later, there were signs that the correspondent's fears were justified. Beginning in May 1913, pig-iron production in the United States declined. On November 7, E. D. Brought, secretary of the Switchmen's Union of North America, wrote to Secretary Wilson from Chicago: "As a progressive labor organization we view with alarm the present tendencies of certain corporations throughout the country; more especially so with regard to the United States Steel Corporation. This corporation is gradually closing down its mills, different departments at a time, throwing thousands out of employment, all in the face of repeated statements by Mr. Gary president of U.S. Steel ] that there has (sic) been no men laid off."2 By the time this was written, business failures were increasing, and by the end of 1913-14, an economic crisis was in full swing. It was to increase in intensity after August 1914, when the war broke out in Europe, severely disrupting American industry and causing food prices in the United States to skyrocket. The economic crisis reached its worst stage in the winter months of 1914-15.

Unemployment began to be felt keenly by the winter of 1913-14 as industry throughout the country laid off workers. Early in December 1913, B. C. Forbes, Wall Street correspondent for the Hearst newspapers, wrote: "The United States, very unfortunately, will be strewn with unemployed this winter. At least 250,000 have already been discharged by

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