YOUNGSTOWN SHEET AND TUBE “THE GREAT STEEL STRIKE OF 1919”

 

 

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In 1919 ,represented by the American Federation of labor, workers  went on strike against the United States steel Corporation . Eventually workers at other companies joined the strike. Because this labor unrest eventually involved more than 350,000 workers ,the walkout is known as the Great Steel Strike of 1919.

The largest strike occurred among steel workers from September to January 1920. Workers demanded higher wages ,an eight hour workday, and recognition of unions.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many workers including workers in the steel industry, faced difficulty working, long hours and low wages. Workers organized unions to  address these issues, but those unions were rarely successful in improving workers conditions. During World War I, the situation briefly improved , as employers were concerned with war time production needs and did not want workers to go on strike.  Once the war was over the improvements did not last. Inflation after the war made it even more difficult for workers to stretch their pay to cover their families’ basic needs. Many workers went on strike during this period , hoping to force their employers to raise wages and improve conditions.

Despite efforts to organize workers , conditions in the steel industry remained harsh. Steelworkers put in an average of 68.7 hours a week, considerably more than workers in other industries. In addition , wages were low and working conditions hazardous . In 1918, Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor  (AFL) launched an organizing drive among steel and iron workers,which ,targeted industry giant U. S, Steel in its Gary, Indiana ,and Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania  plants. The company had a long history of anti-unionism and vowed to resist the organizing efforts at all costs. 

Despite opposition from local official’s U.S. Steel’s threat to use replacement workers to break the union, the organizing committee succeeded in unionizing 100,000 steelworkers by June 1919. the effort succeeded because organizers aggressively recruited  foreign-born unskilled laborers, to whom they portrayed  union as patriotic and an integral part of the fight against Kaiser Wilhelm and Germany. U.S. steel responded by reiterated its commitment to maintaining a non-union workplace. the company fired suspected union organizers and leaders . However its efforts backfired and this increased rank and file support for the union.

The Great  Steel Strike of 1919 proved to be a dismal failure for the steel workers.  Company owners portrayed the workers as  dangerous radicals who threatened the American way of life praying on many American fears of Communism during that era.

Because many of the striking workers were recent immigrants, owners were able to portray them as instigators of trouble. A leader among the radicals was Ohioan Norman Z.Foster,a prominent advocate of socialism. Government officials  used National Guard troops and Federal troops to put down the strike in many cities, leading to violence and even workers deaths in some cases.Because the steel industry was important in Ohio at this time , the Great Steel Strike had a major influence on a number of Ohio cities. The strike also influence political issues. In Canton Ohio , Mayor Charles E. Poorman’s  response led to his defeat in the next election. Governor James Cox was able to use the situation in Canton to his own political advantage.

In 1919, the National Committee demanded a significant wage increase ,an eight-hour workday ,the abolition of company unions ;the rehiring of workers fired for unions activities,and union recognition. 

In 1923,Youngstown Sheet and Tube purchased the assets of Brier Hill Steel Company  located in Youngstown as well as the facilitates of the Steel Tube Company of America in East Chicago and Indiana Harbor. IN. making it the fifth largest steel maker in the United States and the largest employee in the Mahoning Valley. The word ‘Iron’ was dropped from the company’s name in 1905.

The home plant of YS&T was known as the Campbell Works located in Campbell and Struthers ,Ohio.  This plant contained four blast furnaces, twelve open hearth furances, blooming Mills, Bessemer converters, a slabbing mill, a butt weld tube mill , a 79″ hot strip mill and  Seamless tube mills, 

There were also 9″ and 12″ bar mills located in Struthers,Ohio. The Brier Works consisted of two blast furances named Grace and Jeannette,twelve open hearth furances ,40″ blooming mill ,35″intermediate blooming mill,24″ round mill,84″ and 132″ plate mills including an electric  weld tube mill.  During The Depression the Brier Hill works was shut down,but reopened in 1937.

 In 1916 Sheet and Tube workers at the East Youngstown plant rioted during a strike over working conditions , which resulted in most of the town’s business district being burned to the ground. the strike was finally quelled  by arrival of Nation guard troops. After the riots, East Youngstown was renamed Campbell in honor of the Company’s president. In 1937, Youngstown Sheet and tube played a prominent  role in the Little Steel Strike . along with Republic Steel, Inland Steel ,Bethlehem Steel , and Weirton Steel. The so called “Little Steel group” led by Republic’s Tom Girdler, operated independently of U.S. Steel. Violence during the strike resulted in deaths of workers in Chicago and Youngstown.

In 1952,during the Korean War ,President Harry S. Truman attempted to seize U.S> Steel mills in order to avert a strike. this led to the U.S. Supreme Court to limit presidential authority.    The company abruptly closed its Campbell works and furloughed 5,000 workers on September 19,1977, a day remembered locally as “Black Monday.” The Brier Hill Works and company’s in Indiana were sold to Jones and Laughlin Steel, later acquired by Ling-Temco Vought (LTV), a conglomerate.  The Brier Hill works closed in 1979 as part of a continued wave of steel mill closings that devastated the Youngstown economy. The Brier Hill Works eventually reopened and presently is operated as V&M Star Ohio, The mill is a recycling mini-mill owned by the Vallourec Group, a French conglomerate.  

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