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See a timeline of labor history in the 1910's

Learn about Current Struggles for the United States Steelworkers of America



The Hard Fought Battle to Unionize

Nick all geared up for a long hard day of work for United States Steel

After a long hard day's work a man walks down the crowded streets of Homestead, PA. He's got dirt so thick on his face he can hardly be recognized. His body aches from head to toe and he can't wait until he makes it to Chiodo's Tavern to meet up with his buddies from work, have a drink or two, and talk about the hard day at the steel mill. He walks into Chiodo's and the place erupts into cheering. You can hear glasses clinking together over the loud voices of workers recounting who was running the furnace or how liquid metal burned one of their co-workers. People are dancing, yelling and all in all having a good time.

Steelworker on lunch break

You sit in the corner talking amongst a small group of people. You aren't quite as happy as everybody else. You think about your job and how you feel very mistreated there. You don't feel the rewards of your hard work. You talk to some others about the working conditions and wages, and you all agree that things at the mill need to be changed. There are talks of unionizing but some are scared to join a union because of stories they've heard about union organizers being evicted from their homes, beaten and even killed. While some men leave, others stay to talk about organizing for better pay, better work conditions and more communication with management.

Nick at the site where strikers picketed during the strike of 1919

The next day at work you become angrier as you are shoveling black soot from the blast furnaces that heat coal ore to make steel. Suddenly there is commotion among the workers. Everybody rushes down to the center of the plant. You see a man lying on the ground. Liquid metal has spilled on him and he dies within minutes. You are enraged, but your boss tells you to get back to work.

Painting of steel worker at the furnace blaster

After long consideration you decide to join the union and are motivated to get as many people as possible to join you. The American Federation Of Labor was looking into violation of workers rights all across America at different steel mills, and you decide to join up with the AFL.

Nick on the banks of the Ohio River with a very common steel bridge in the back round

As the AFL organizes you continue to work in the mill. It's extremely hard work-- you work 12 hours a day for two weeks and then 12 hours a night for two weeks. With the changing schedule you can never get enough sleep or spend much time with your family, but you can't afford to go on strike. The AFL contacts your mill and several other steel and iron mills throughout the country requesting a conference between management and the workers. The AFL's request is denied several times, even after management is threatened with worker strikes are threatened.

Betty Esper Mayor of Homestead, PA and also spent 36 years working for the office in the Mill

The worst-case scenario has come; it's time to strike. The AFL sets a date for the strike: September 22, 1919. They recruit several thousand workers to participate in the strike. On the morning of September 22, you and your fellow coworkers don't go to the mill; you take to the streets demanding better pay and better work conditions.

Nick at the Church where meetings were held in the strike of 1919

The strike was the biggest labor strike in history to that point in time, consisting of nearly 365,000 workers nationwide. It was big news and the corporations were shocked by its size and huge impact across the nation. Until that day they thought they had done a very good job of stopping any union organization. They had often hired Pinkertons, private officers paid to defuse strikes.

Nick hanging out with the old smoke stacks of the demolished Homestead steel mill

This time the steel factories imported strikebreakers from Mexico and the Southern United States. In most cases the strikebreakers didn't know a strike was even going on. They were just told there was work to be done and most, being poor and unemployed, took the chance whenever it was offered.


In some states martial law was declared, and 20 deaths were attributed to the conflict. The strike only lasted for about 15 weeks. The AFL and steelworkers all across America had lost that battle for sure and were right back where they started.


The Country Music Highway and Hostelling is Pittsburgh

No real change would come until 1936 when the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) started to build a solid union. For the first time, workers in the steel industry had the legal right to unionize. Even after the unions were formed, the corporations of United States Steel, fearful of losing profits, still fought long and hard against them.

Nick at the 1219 chapter for the United States Steelworkers Of America Union

Throughout the years the steel industry has declined in Pennsylvania and all across America. There are several reasons why the steel industry declined so much. Because of advances in technology, machines are taking the place of workers. Because many multinational corporations have moved their operations overseas to increase profits, most of the steel that we use in our country comes from overseas. It makes you wonder-- Are corporations doing the same thing to workers overseas that they did to workers here?

Nick at the award for number one safety plant

The steel industry and the unions the still exist here in America. They struggle to hold on to what they have. John Mazzoni, President Of The United States Steelworkers Of America chapter 1219 in Braddock, PA, said that the "communication level between the Union and the United States Steel (USS) is better and has made progress through the years, because now it's beneficial to USS. If a worker gets hurt, the company has to pay. So the union and USS currently work together on ways to make a safer environment for the workers."

Edgar Thompson Steel Mill still in existence and still working

But the battle between the steel industry and steelworkers was lost long ago. Can you take a guess to see who lost in the long run?

Today you can still see the remnants of the steelworker community when you walk into Chiodo's Tavern in Homestead, PA. The old hangout still has ex-steelworkers who come there to talk and argue about the same old things. Some say Chiodo's will always be there.



Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - America's long legacy of injustice and intolerance claims two more victims
Neda - Are you a foreigner? Well, go to jail!
Jennifer - Letters home from the frontlines of America's worker strikes
Stephen - When the "Company" is on your back it's time for a gunfight!
Making A Difference - The global market place is destroying our globe