1919: US steel strike

While defeated by overwhelming police repression against pickets and union halls, the 1919 strike is significant in the history of organized class struggle in basic manufacturing and the high point of William Z. Foster's "bore from within" approach to syndicalism.

Submitted by David in Atlanta on October 5, 2007

1919 Steel Strike
October 3, 1919

The Steel Strike Still Holds Public Attention

October 10, 1919

The Steel Strike is Still On
With Few if Any Changes

As we go to press the steel strike remains unsettled. We find it difficult to obtain reliable news, as one story is hardly completed until another story is told that contradicts it, but gleaning from the mass of rumors and facts as near as we can get them, the strike situation is about as it was last week.
The operators are claiming many gains and seem able to keep up a show of running their plants, while officials of the strikers claim that the tie-up is daily gaining ground and that in the no distant future smoke will cease coming form the stacks, and the making of steel in Pittsburgh will cease.
A congressional committee was expected here to inquire into the details of the strike, but for some reason has failed to appear thus far but are looked for soon.
William Z. Foster, secretary-treasurer of the National Committee of the strikers, returned to Pittsburgh Tuesday from Washington, where he attended the meeting of the executive council of the American Federation of Labor, which took up the subject of financing the strike.
Mr. Foster would say nothing about the results of the Washington meeting, although news dispatches from the National capital yesterday said the executive council had decided to defer payment of strike benefits.

Source: National Labor Journal, Vol. XIII., No. 41, p. 1, October 10, 1919

See also: an account of the 1919 Strike in McKeesport written in 1935 by a writer most likely employed with the National Tube Company.

From the Best Available Information the
Tie Up is Holding out Hopes of Success

The steel strike is still holding its ground, according to the best evidence procurable at this writing. The Senate Labor Committee which is investigating the trouble, was to have come to Pittsburgh today to get first-hand facts from the steel industries here, but on account of the hearing at Washington and the fact that the peace treaty is now occupying the attention of the Senate, their visit may be delayed.
The strike, at the end of the second week, is settling into what promises to be a long drawn out affair, with both sides apparently determined to carry the fight to a finish.

The operators are doing everything in their power to induce the striking steel workers to return to their jobs, liberally using the columns of the daily papers as a means of communicating their "Go Back to Work" propaganda. They claim that men are returning daily and that mills which at the beginning of the strike had been forced to suspend operations, are again resuming. They state that nothing which has been started in a manufacturing way since the strike began has been forced to stop.

Secretary W.Z. Foster left last night for Washington to appear before the Senate investigating committee. He went after a determined effort to avoid going at this time, as the organizing committee felt that his presence in Pittsburgh just now is urgently necessary. Attorney W.B. Rubin, counsel for the National strike committee and M.F. Tighe, president of the Amalgamated Association of Machinists were in Washington Wednesday in an endeavor to save Secretary Foster from going, but were unsuccessful, and notified Foster that he would have to appear at the capital Thursday.
The headquarters of the McKeesport Central Labor Union, at 416 Market street, also used as headquarters by the McKeesport steel strikers was closed Wednesday afternoon by Chief of Police James Beddington on orders from Mayor George Lysle.

William Murphy, district organizer of McKeesport, in charge of the headquarters, said that 34 men had been arrested by police or beaten by the state police and that they were stating their cases to Jacob Roe of Pittsburgh, an attorney for the American Federation of Labor.
Secretary Foster, commenting upon the testimony of Judge Gary before the Senate committee Wednesday, said:

"We are pleased by Judge Gary's statements before the Senate committee. They show more convincingly than anything which we could say, that the head of the United States Steel Corporation stands stubbornly for autocratic control of industry. He believes in the system under which a small board of directors have absolute sway over the conditions of labor in an industry. The judge's talk about the danger of domination of the steel industry by trades unions is just a smoke screen thrown out to obscure the issues. The workers are demanding the right of collective bargaining in the only practical way it can be had -- through the trades union movement."

Source: National Labor Journal, Vol. XIII., No. 40, p. 1, October 3, 1919