The Organization of Steel
If there is any single series of events in the labor history of this period which may be characterized as of momentous import, it is the organization of the steel industry. After a crushing defeat by the United States Steel Corporation in 1901, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers of North America had eked out a precarious and meager existence. Unsuccessful organizing campaigns in 1919-1920 and 1933 left the Amalgamated, at the time of the organization of the CIO, a shell of an organization. Average membership in 1935 was only 9869. During that year, 84 local lodges were disbanded, and only four new ones established. Organizational work was at a standstill; not a single national organizer was in the field. 1 Yet by March 1937, the United States Steel Corporation, long a symbol of anti-unionism, had signed a collective contract with an outside union, an action that had repercussions throughout American industry. The first part of the present chapter will deal in some detail with the events that culminated in this agreement. Then we shall consider the refusal of Little Steel to follow the lead of the Steel Corporation, and the years of struggle which led finally to the organization of the entire industry.
The 1934 convention of the AFL had directed the Executive Council "at the earliest practical date [to] inaugurate, manage, promote and conduct a campaign of organization in the iron and steel industry." 2 When it came to implementation of this mandate, however, serious differences of opinion on appropriate procedure were manifest among the Executive Council members. In January 1935, William Green asked M. F. Tighe, president of the Amalgamated Association, to draw up a plan of organization for consideration by the Executive Council. In his reply, Tighe stated that a minimum of $200,000 would be required to start a new campaign, and added: "We are firmly convinced by the experience of the past 18 months that to make any headway, plants must be organized industrially." 3