The “Little Steel” Strike
On this day in labor history, the year was 1937.
That was the day the Steel Workers Organizing Committee or SWOC, called a nationwide strike against three of the four ‘Little Steel’ companies, Republic, Inland and Youngstown Sheet & Tube.
The drive to organize Little Steel came on the heels of an historic agreement with U.S. Steel and J&L earlier in the year.
In his book, The Last Great Strike, legal scholar Ahmed White points out that SWOC leaders established a three-pronged strategy in their organizing efforts: to breakdown racial and ethnic differences among workers, to use the Wagner Act and newly formed NLRB to their advantage whenever possible and to take over company unions where they existed.
They hoped Little Steel would follow earlier precedent.
But mill owners wouldn’t budge on union recognition.
Firing of organizers intensified and lockouts began.
Sheriffs departments began the swearing in of deputies.
Republic and Youngstown Sheet & Tube started shipping and stockpiling munitions, including machine guns and tear gas to mills throughout the Midwest and Northeast. Scattered walkouts and wildcats began throughout the latter part of May as SWOC continued to demand recognition and first contracts.
And on this day SWOC delegates from the Little Steel locals met in a Youngstown ‘war council’ to demand a strike.
The strike began late that evening with the shift change at 11 pm.
The mills were shut down tight.
Pitched battles between strikers, scabs and police continued throughout the summer with hundreds arrested.
Anti-union violence would explode with the Memorial Day Massacre in South Chicago and the Women’s Massacre in Youngstown the following month.
After five months, the strike collapsed. It would take until 1942 before recognition was finally won.
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