Arthur G. Burgoyne_
Eighteen and Ninety Three_
Homestead_ A Complete History_
The feeling of ownership had a place in the reasoning of these simple people. Many of them had bought and paid for their homes and were pillars of the borough government. Some were still paying for their dwellings—paying off the mortgages held by the Carnegie Company, which had been in the habit of helping those who cared to build, and which even did a regular banking business for the advantage of its employees.
The Second of Chapters_
History and Methods of the Amalgamated Association—Operation of the Sliding Scale at Homestead—Superintendent Potter Makes Amicable Suggestions a la Carnegie—An Ultimatum From Frick—He Threatens Non-Unionism and Fortifies the Mills—Lodges Hold a Sunday Morning Meeting—Burgess McLuckie's Bold Speech—"High Fences, Pinkerton Detectives, Thugs and Militia"—Political Exigencies Give Hope to the Workmen.
The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers is, with the possible exception of the Association of Window Glass Workers, the best generaled and most substantially organized labor organization in the United States. One of the fundamental principles in the doctrine of the association is to avoid and discourage strikes; and so closely has this article of faith been observed that the number of strikes officially ordered in the iron and steel industries has been small in comparison with the record of most other labor unions.
The adjustment of wage scales by the association is largely the affair of the lodges. The equipment and requirements of different iron and steel mills vary considerably, and hence, each mill or kindred group of mills must have a separate scale, adjusted to its needs. It is incumbent on the lodges to report their respective scales to the association at large through the medium of an annual delegate convention. Should there be a dispute in any district, the convention passes upon the merits of the case and decides whether or not it shall be taken up by the association as a whole. If not, the usual mode of procedure is to notify the belligerent lodge or lodges to yield the disputed points. If, on the other hand, the association decides to intervene, the chief executive officers are authorized to act, and it becomes their duty to exhaust all fair means of bringing the recalcitrant mill-owners to terms, before countenancing a strike. An official order to strike commits the association to the payment of weekly benefits to the strikers.
The president of the Amalgamated Association is always chosen with special reference to his capacity for cool, stable, conservative leadership. Mental brilliancy is not so much sought after in the man who is called upon to fill this responsible position, as level-headedness and inflexible nerve. William Weihe, who served as president during the troublous days of 1892, fully met these requirements. A giant in stature, slow and deliberate in speech and action, and never committing himself without being perfectly sure of his ground, Weihe was just the man to preserve the dignity and influence of the association when the spectres of riot and anarchy stalked abroad and organized labor, smarting from a thousand gaping wounds, threatened to break down the bulwarks of law and order and to sacrifice the good-will of its friends. At no time throughout a contest which set men's souls aflame from one end of the land to the other did President Weihe lose his self-possession or his ability to stand between the solid fabric of the association and those of its friends, who, in the rashness of the hour, would fain have involved it in the ruin which engulfed the lodges at Homestead.
The Homestead scale was prepared early in the spring. In January, the superintendent of the mill, Mr. Potter sent for the joint committee of the local lodges and requested that the men prepare a scale. It was not the policy of the Carnegie firm, Mr. Potter said, to leave the way open for a strike. If there were differences of opinion between employer and employees, the proper method of settlement was by arbitration, and it was, therefore, advisable that the scale should be presented early, so as to leave ample time for an amicable adjustment of disputed points.
For three years previous, the men had been working under what was known as a sliding scale, an expedient which at the time of its adoption was regarded as a sure preventive of strikes. This scale established as the basis on which wages were to be determined, the market price of steel billets, in the manufacture of which the Carnegie Company was extensively engaged. When the price of billets went up, wages were to go up correspondingly, and when the price of billets went down, wages were to be correspondingly lowered. $25 a ton was agreed upon as the minimum. If billets were quoted below that figure, there was to be no further depression of wages. In other words, the men and the firm were practically in partnership, increased profits to the latter meaning increased earnings to the former, unless the bottom fell out of the market, in which case it became the duty of the stronger partner to protect the weaker.
The circumstances under which this equitable compact was made are of interest in so far as they exhibit the very different temper of the Carnegie Company towards its men in the past from that which marked its line of conduct after Mr. Frick was placed at the helm. In January, 1889, the men, who had been working under a yearly scale, quarreled with the firm over the terms proposed for the ensuing year and a strike was declared. William L. Abbott, a man of comparatively mild and liberal disposition, was then serving as chairman. Mr. Abbott undertook to break the strike, and when the men resorted to riotous conduct, called upon the sheriff of the county for aid. The sheriff, Dr. Alexander McCandless, an official who enjoyed great popularity, and possessed the courage and tact essential in such an emergency, went promptly to the scene with a force of deputies recruited for the occasion. At the first encounter with the mob, the deputies let their courage ooze out at their fingers' ends and fled from the town.
The sheriff, nowise disheartened by the desertion of his forces, took the best possible means of ending the trouble by constituting himself a mediator between the Carnegie firm and the strikers. Through his efforts a conference was arranged, and peace was restored through the adoption of the famous sliding scale, with the understanding that it would hold good until June 30, 1892. Mr. Carnegie, then absent in Europe, professed to be much pleased with the amicable settlement arrived at and the incidental guarantee of peace for three years to come, and for the time being the names of Sheriff McCandless and William L. Abbott were surrounded with a halo of glory.
When Superintendent Potter, in January, 1892, spoke to the men about a new scale, he gave no hint of the prospect that the firm contemplated sweeping away the beneficial arrangement which had so long governed their earnings. As already noted, Mr. Potter touched upon the subject of possible differences of opinion and of the firm's desire that such differences should be settled in a friendly way.
The shadow of Mr. Frick loomed up gloomily in the background, it is true, but there was really no occasion to think of shadows when the genial Potter presented himself as the very embodiment of sunshine. The ideas put forth by this gentleman bore the special brand of Mr. Carnegie. Mr. Carnegie was on record as being opposed to the use of force in settling disputes between capital and labor. In 1886, he had written for the magazines on this question, and the liberality of his views had elicited general commendation. Thus he said in the Forum:
"Peaceful settlement of differences should be reached through arbitration. I would lay it down as a maxim that there is no excuse for a strike or a lock-out until arbitration of differences has been offered by one party and refused by the other."
Mr. Carnegie declared further, that "The right of the workingmen to combine and to form trades unions is no less sacred than the right of the manufacturer to enter into association and conference with his fellows, and it must sooner or later be conceded." Manufacturers should "meet the men more than halfway" and "To expect that one dependent upon his daily wage for the necessaries of life will stand by peaceably and see a new man employed in his stead is to expect much."
This was the gospel of Carnegie in 1886, and, the shadow of Frick to the contrary, notwithstanding, it was not singular that it should have been the gospel of Potter in January, 1892.
It was, then, with a feeling of reasonable security that the men went to work upon their scale. This, when completed, differed little from that of the previous three years. It was presented to Mr. Potter in February, but, strange to say, did not seem to please that worthy exponent of the Carnegie idea of harmony. The joint committee of the lodges waited frequently upon the superintendent in the hope of reaching some definite conclusion, but the conferences were barren of results.
At length, to the amazement of the men, the Carnegie firm officially promulgated a new sliding scale, based on billets at $26.50 per ton as a standard, but fixing as the minimum basis of wages, $22 per ton, instead of $25 as formerly. As the billet market was now abnormally depressed—a condition which, it was claimed by many, had been designedly brought about in order to give the Carnegie Company a pretext for wage reductions—it was apparent that a serious reduction in many departments of the mill would follow the acceptance of the firm's propositions.
June 24 was fixed as the last day on which the men could accept as members of the Amalgamated Association. After that date, the firm would not consent to treat with them otherwise than as individuals. In short, Mr. Frick wanted it to be understood, definitely and finally, that, if his employees did not yield promptly and with a good grace, he would non-unionize the mill and abolish the right of self-protective organization, to which Mr. Carnegie, six years before, had feelingly referred as "sacred."
There was a flavor of coke region discipline about the Frick ultimatum which was not calculated to promote good feeling at Homestead. Nor did it. The men who drove the sheriff's deputies out of Homestead in 1889 might yield to milder measures, but the crack of the whip was irritating. "Are we to be lashed into Mr. Frick's way of thinking?" men asked one another, and the very thought bred insurrection.
If there was a calm now, it was the calm that preceded a hurricane.
As if to accentuate the sentiment of disaffection among the Homestead people, Mr. Frick accompanied the issuance of his ultimatum with preparations of a warlike character. A large force of men was employed upon the construction of a solid board fence, three miles in extent, surrounding the property of the firm between the Pittsburgh, Virginia & Charleston railroad and the Monongahela river. All the workshops were included within this enclosure. The offices and stables, situated on the other side of the railroad, were similarly enclosed. An elevated wooden bridge connected the two enclosures. The fence was surmounted with strands of barbed wire, and perforated at intervals, as if for the convenience of sharpshooters stationed within, although Mr. Frick, in his testimony before a committee of Congress, averred that the holes were simply for the purpose of observation. High in the air, at the ends of the tall mill buildings, twelve-foot platforms were erected, on which were placed electric search-lights, designed to enable sentinels to keep watch at night over every part of the mill yard.
There was a cold and sanguinary determination about these provisions which boded ill for the workmen. Clearly, the redoubtable tamer of the coke-workers had made up his mind to force a bloody conflict with organized labor, and the wage ultimatum was his defi. One of King John's barons could not equip his feudal castle with more elaborate offensiveness than this nineteenth century ironmaster displayed in fortifying his mill, with the apparent intention of making war—actual war with arms upon the men of Homestead. So it was that the men viewed the preparations at the mill. The supposition that Mr. Frick might regard their disposition as one of invincible stubbornness, sure to lead to deeds of violence, and that his fences, barbed wire, loopholes, platforms and search-lights might be pure measures of self-defense was not entertained for an instant.
The fortification of the mill was a huge threat—a challenge—an insult. With this exhibition of brute force held up before them, the workmen deemed their manhood, as well as the life of their organization to be at stake. Come what might, they must now burn their boats behind them, as the firm had done, and refuse to recede an inch from their demands.
While affairs were taking this ominous turn at Homestead, the annual convention of the Amalgamated Association met at Pittsburgh, the session opening on June 7. Of the stormy conditions under which the delegates came together and which caused their deliberations to be protracted for an unusual period, mention is reserved for another chapter. Suffice it to state here that the delegates from Homestead duly submitted their scale; that it received the indorsement of the association, and that the local lodges were empowered to persist in their demand for the retention of the rate of $25 a ton on billets as the minimum basis of tonnage men's wages. This made it optional with the local lodges to declare a strike, although it followed by implication only, and not of necessity, that the strike, if ordered, would receive the sanction and support of the association.
Excitement in Homestead mounted rapidly to fever heat.
The first concerted public demonstration on the part of the men was on Sunday, June 19, when the lodges held an open meeting in the opera house. Some of the leading officials of the association and many delegates to the Pittsburgh convention from other states were present. The gathering included almost the entire working force of the Homestead mill. William A. Carney, First Vice-President of the association acted as chairman. The speechmakers, for the most part, while exhorting the men to stand firm, counseled moderation and respect for the law.
A young vice-president of the association, Jere Doherty, touched upon the place of the wage-worker in politics and the efficacy of the Homestead struggle as a test of the protection guaranteed to labor by the Republican party.
The crowning address of the day was made by John McLuckie, the burgess of the town, a simple, earnest, straightforward man, whose rugged eloquence told more forcibly with the brawny multitude who heard him than if it had been couched in the language of a Cicero or a Demosthenes. Burgess McLuckie said:
"What brings you here this morning? Is it idle curiosity, or is there a real, tangible reason beyond? The cause of this wage trouble is not generally understood. We were persuaded to vote the Republican ticket four years ago in order that our wages might be maintained. As soon as the election was over a widespread feeling on the part of the manufacturers towards a reduction of wages was exhibited all over the land. As soon as the McKinley bill was passed, the article in the production of which we work was the only article that suffered a reduction. It is Sunday morning, and we ought to be in church, but we are here to-day to see if we are going to live as white men in the future. The constitution of this country guarantees all men the right to live, but in order to live we must keep up a continuous struggle. This is the effect of legislation and nothing else. The McKinley bill reduced the tariff on the four-inch billet, and the reduction of our wages is the result. You men who voted the Republican ticket voted for high tariff and you get high fences, Pinkerton detectives, thugs and militia!"
There was politics in this speech, but almost every member of a labor organization is a politician in a small way, and McLuckie's bill of indictment against the Republican party struck fairly home. It had been freely charged that, when the McKinley tariff bill was being prepared, Andrew Carnegie had waited on the conference committee which put the finishing touches to the measure and secured as a return for his generous contributions to the Republican campaign funds, a reduction in the duty on steel billets, this product being the single standard of wages in his Homestead works. As the Carnegie firm controlled the billet market, there was nothing to hinder a depression of prices, as a seeming consequence of a lower duty, and this was to serve as a cover for the new scale and the Frick ultimatum.
The plausibility of this story, and the bluntness with which McLuckie, himself a poorly paid workman of the Carnegie Company, put the political duplicity involved before his fellow workmen exercised a telling effect. Particularly did the pointed allusion to "high fences, Pinkerton detectives, thugs and militia" carry weight in the estimation of the workingmen present at that Sunday morning meeting. Nor did it stop there, for within the next twenty-four hours this, the first public arraignment of the Republican party and the Carnegie Company jointly was flashed over the telegraph wires to newspapers in all parts of the United States, and the country at large began to realize that there were two ways of looking at the doctrine of "protection to American labor," and that the difference between them was on the eve of receiving an impressive demonstration.
The temper of the people of Homestead after the meeting of the lodges, was, in spite of the scarcely concealed militant resolution harbored in the breasts of the men as individuals, moderate and orderly. There was still time, they reasoned, for Mr. Frick to withdraw his defiant ultimatum. Nearly two weeks remained until the new wage scale would be enforced. In the mean time there would be conferences. Possibly Mr. Carnegie might be heard from over the cable. Perhaps even the great men who were interested in proving that protection protects would use their influence to obviate the astounding object lesson which would be presented to the world if the Carnegie firm, at the noontide of its prosperity, should reduce the wages of its employees. If there was hope in this way of looking at the prospect, it was a forlorn hope, and the most sanguine of the tonnage men, who were the first to be affected by a change in the scale, could not consider it otherwise.
The cloud was plain to be seen, but of the silver lining not a vestige was perceptible.
So the men went to bed on that Sunday night with McLuckie's bold words ringing in their ears, and a strong conviction deep down in their hearts that a crash was coming, that somebody was destined to go under, and that, come what might, the victors of 1889 would not show the white feather.