July 6, 1892: The Homestead Strike turns violent. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA) was an union formed in 1876 to represent skilled iron and steel workers. The Carnegie Steel Company ran a mill near Pittsburgh in a small town called Homestead. The AA was instrumental in negotiating national wage scales and helped to regularize work hours, work loads, and work speeds thus improving working conditions in the mills. Between January and March of 1882, a strike was waged between the Bessemer Steel Works and the AA in Homestead and finally ended with a complete union victory.
The AA struck again in 1889 and won a three year contract, again after violence between strikers and strikebreakers. The AA grew after winning this second round with Carnegie’s Bessemer plant. The contract ran until July 1, 1892. Carnegie supported unions for the most part. Henry Frick was in charge of the company’s operations beginning in 1881. He was less thrilled with unions and vowed to break the one in Homestead. On June 29, 1892 with no agreement between union and employer, Frick locked the doors to the plant. The contract had not yet officially run out, but snipers armed with high pressure water cannons (spraying boiling hot water) were placed in order to keep the plant closed.
The union officially struck on July 1 and each side became entrenched. The owners tried to bring in scabs or strikebreakers and the union workers escorted them back out of town. They stopped all production. Without a contract even under negotiation, Frick hired Pinkerton National Detective Agency to help with security at the plant, enabling strikebreakers access. The AA had prior knowledge of their impending arrival along the Monongahela River. The 300 agents were armed with Winchester rifles and loaded onto barges and tugged upriver to land at the steel mill and restore order. There, they were met by angry union workers and civilians. Shots were exchanged.
The two forces jockeyed back and forth, retreated and advanced and several times more shots erupted. The AA men tried several attempts to burn the barges with the Pinkerton men aboard. Local law enforcement pled with the governor for State Militia to restore law and order. On July 7, after some measure of protection was granted, the Pinkerton contingent surrendered. They were promised safe passage, but several of the men were severely beaten on the trip through town. Before the Militia arrived and restored some control, ten people were dead and many more injured. The strike was finally resolved October 13. Due to all the violence, AA lost credibility and much authority.
Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. – John F. Kennedy
With all their faults, trade-unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man, than any other association of men. – Clarence Darrow
Labor unions would have us believe that they transfer income from rich capitalists to poor workers. In fact, they mostly transfer income from the large number of non-union workers to a small number of relatively well-off union workers. – Robert E. Anderson
The essence of trade unionism is social uplift. The labor movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor. - A. Phillip Randolph
Also on this day:
The Greatest Show on Earth – In 1944, the Hartford Circus Fire kills over 100 attendees at the circus.
Dirigible – In 1919, the first east to west Atlantic crossing in an airship successfully concluded.
Rabidly Scientific – In 1865, Louis Pasteur begins the first series of rabies shots.