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 Third of Chapters_
Frick's Allies—A Plan of General Assault on the Amalgamated Association Falls to the Ground—The Labor Question in Politics—Democrats Make Capital out of Wage Reductions—Frick Confers with a Workmen's Committee and Rejects a Compromise—Mills Shut Down and are Declared Non-Union—"Fort Frick"—Lodges Appoint an Advisory Committee. Guarding the Town.
About the time of the assembling of the delegates to the convention of the Amalgamated Association, the Pittsburgh Post, a Democratic newspaper, printed an article in which it was alleged that the impending conflict at Homestead was to be precipitated not in the interest of the Carnegie Company alone, but in that of all the iron and steel manufacturers of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Homestead, it was said, was chosen as a battle ground, (1) because of the ease with which the mill property could be equipped for offensive and defensive purposes; (2) because the ruin wrought in that town by a disastrous strike would be more sweeping and complete than could be effected anywhere else, and (3) because the Carnegie Company had the largest interests to serve and should, therefore, be willing to bear the brunt of the battle. If war was declared, and the lodges at Homestead were broken up, the other manufacturers were to follow the lead of the Carnegie Company, defy the Amalgamated Association and reduce the wages of their employees to an extent varying from 20 to 60 per cent.
The Post's story received little credence when it appeared, but later on the course of events gave it a strong coloring of probability. Mr. Frick proceeded to fortify the Homestead mills with every evidence of inviting a desperate conflict. At the same time, the other manufacturers commenced to show their hand, those of the Mahoning and Shenango Valley, a district located about fifty miles from Pittsburgh, taking the initiative by announcing a general reduction of wages ranging from 20 to 60 per cent. The Pittsburgh manufacturers avoided taking a distinctly aggressive stand, but gave out significant statements to the effect that the condition of the iron and steel market rendered it impossible for them to continue paying the rate of wages maintained during the previous year.
These symptoms of depression in one of the most generously protected industries within a short time after the passage of the McKinley tariff bill afforded a prolific subject of commentary to the opponents of the high tariff system. Both political parties made their nominations for the presidency in the month of June, when the labor trouble was waxing warm, and it became only too plainly perceptible that, since the Republican party took its stand mainly on the benefit resulting to American labor from the protective tariff, Republicanism would be held answerable by the working classes for the proposed wage reductions in Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact the efficacy of the tariff as a wage-maintaining agency had been grossly overdrawn by stump orators and over-zealous partisan newspapers. For years it had been dinned into the ears of the workingman that it was his duty to vote for Republican candidates because the Republicans in Congress maintained the high protective tariff and the high protective tariff meant high wages.
But now, at the opening of a presidential contest, the workingman was confronted with what seemed to be proof positive that the high tariff had lost its virtue, and when the Democratic press pointed to the astonishing spectacle of wage reductions ordered by the "pampered iron barons" of Pennsylvania, as illustrating that the protective system was a sham and a fraud, what wonder that organized labor was quick to accept the indictment as a just one!
The Democratic national convention did not lose sight of the opportunity thus offered, and in the platform on which Grover Cleveland was nominated at Chicago perhaps the most telling plank was that which denounced the protective system as fraudulent and referred to the strikes in the iron trade as an immediate attestation of the failure of "McKinleyism."
Meanwhile, newspapers friendly to President Harrison sought to dissuade the iron and steel manufacturers from making the threatened cut in wages and precipitating a general conflict with the operatives. In Pittsburgh, especially, a bitter discussion was carried on, the papers controlled by the manufacturers persistently asserting that the tariff has nothing to do with the making of wage scales and that a general wage reduction and consequent strikes during a presidential campaign could not be construed as reflecting upon the efficacy of the McKinley bill and the Republican party's pledges to American labor; while the Democratic and independent press subjected the manufacturers to merciless criticism.
All this was full of encouragement to the workingmen. They felt that their cause was expanding from the dimensions of a mere local trouble to those of an affair of national importance, affecting the destinies of the dominant political parties. At Homestead, which had previously been a Republican stronghold, the Democratic propaganda found special favor. "If all else should fail us," thought the men, "we can, at least, have revenge at the polls in November."
And they kept their word.
It is not within the province of the writer of this narrative to analyze the peculiar aspect put upon the case of the workingmen by political agitators for campaign purposes. Merely the facts are stated here, leaving it to the reader to make his own deductions as to the justice or injustice of the assaults on the American system of protection to labor provoked by the seeming selfishness of tariff-enriched manufacturers. Suffice it to state that every shot told and that, if the whole truth were known, it would be found that political considerations went a long way to prevent the other manufacturers from joining Mr. Frick in a body and using their combined resources to destroy the Amalgamated Association and strip their employees of all means of self-defense.
It will be seen that the position of the Homestead workers was greatly strengthened by the common danger. Homestead was not to be alone in its fight. The entire Amalgamated Association was threatened, and the spirit of mutual helpfulness was, therefore, powerfully stimulated at all points. The good old unionist principle, "One for all, and all for one," was bound to receive a full and magnificent exemplification.
On June 15, the convention of the Amalgamated Association completed the general wage scale for iron mills and presented it to the manufacturers' committee. The manufacturers responded by producing a scale of their own, embodying extensive reductions. This was the beginning of a dispute, stubborn on both sides, which was kept up long after the final adjournment of the convention, that body assigning the duty of conferring with the manufacturers to a special wage committee.
The consideration of the scales for steel mills, including that prepared by the Homestead lodges, was not completed by the convention until June 23. On that day, a committee, headed by William Roberts, one of the most intelligent of the Homestead mill workers, appeared at the offices of the Carnegie Company, on Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and was escorted to Mr. H. C. Frick's private room. Mr. Frick, General Manager Potter, H. L. Childs and F. T. F. Lovejoy acted for the company in the conference which followed. Mr. Roberts, acting as spokesman for his colleagues, presented the Homestead scale as approved by the convention, and explained that the employees were prepared to concede several points, admitting, however, of no reduction exceeding 15 per cent, in any department. The men were willing even to reduce the minimum selling price of billets on which the rate of wages should be estimated to $24 per ton, but the firm insisted upon the $23 rate, which, as previously explained, signified a serious depression in wages.
The conference, after a discussion lasting several hours, broke up without accomplishing anything.
The following day, June 24, had been fixed by Mr. Frick as the last on which the Carnegie firm would treat with its employees as members of the Amalgamated Association. The day passed without a conference. It was believed, however, that, in view of the concessions which the men had stated their willingness to make, even though they refused to make the complete surrender which Mr. Frick demanded, the firm would consent to fresh conferences with the committee. Yet the fact that the firm, which had sufficient orders on hand to keep the mill busy for many months, was canceling these orders, coupled with the extraordinary preparations for warfare which were being made at the mills, cast a damper on the hopes of the men. There was hardly a ray of sunshine to brighten the gloomy outlook.
On June 25, Mr. Lovejoy, secretary of the Carnegie Company, stated through the newspapers that the conferences were at an end, that the firm had decided to make the rate of $23 a ton on billets the basis of wages, and that this rate would be enforced without regard to the opinion of the Amalgamated Association. It was also the intention to change the time of fixing the wage schedule from June to January, so that if a strike or lock-out should occur, the hardships of the winter season would strengthen the company's hand. So, at least, the men interpreted the proposed change.
Mr. Lovejoy's statement, although given out in an informal way, was generally accepted as meaning that the ax was forthwith to be let fall upon the neck of organized labor at Homestead, and that no human power could stay the hand of the executioner.
Still all was quiet at Homestead. June 25 was Saturday and pay-day, but the day was marked by less activity and bustle than usual. The stores were not crowded, and little money was spent. In the face of trouble, the end of which it was impossible to foresee, men carefully put away the contents of their pay envelopes. The wolf might come to the door before long and resources had to be husbanded. Few cared for the little Saturday jollifications common at other times. Wherever a group of mill men came together, the one theme of discussion was the ultimatum of the firm, the prospect of a wholesale discharge of union men on July 1 and the meaning of the warlike equipment of the mill property.
A new and significant name was devised for the Carnegie enclosure, with its ramparts, watch towers, search-lights and other suggestions of war, and flew from mouth to mouth with the rapidity of lightning.
An ill-omened name it was, bristling with offensive associations; but its propriety as a descriptive epithet could not be questioned.
Who was to occupy the "fort?" Whose guns were to be used through those loopholes?
"Pinkerton detectives," said some, and the rumor that an army of "Pinkertons" had been hired and might already be on its way to garrison the works and shed the blood of the men of Homestead found ready credence and deepened the feeling of resentment abroad in the town. Many were disposed to believe that Pinkerton scouts had arrived and were making things ready for the coming of the main guard.
On Tuesday, June 28, the company ordered the armor-plate mill and the open-hearth department shut down, throwing 800 men out of employment.
This was the beginning of the lock-out, for a lock-out it was, and not a strike, as has been very generally represented.
A strike occurs when dissatisfied workingmen cease work of their own accord and refuse to return until the cause of dissatisfaction is removed.
A lock-out originates with the employing individual or corporation, and consists in the refusal to let the employees work until they come to terms with the employer.
As Mr. Frick took the initiative, the trouble at Homestead was distinctively a lock-out, although, if Mr. Frick had chosen, he could have permitted it to take the form of a strike.
It made little difference in the end which of the contestants took the first aggressive step. Once the Frick ultimatum was promulgated, a struggle was inevitable, and if the firm had not thrown down the gauntlet, the men most assuredly would have forced the fighting on their own account.
The night of June 28 witnessed strange scenes in Homestead. The pent-up feelings of the men now found vent unrestrainedly. Effigies of Frick and Potter were hung on telegraph poles. Denunciations of the firm and its policy were heard on every hand. Knots of angry men gathered outside the board fence that hedged the mill enclosure, peered through the loopholes at the watchmen on duty within and talked defiantly of what would happen if the methods that triumphed over the poor, disorganized serfs in the coke regions were to be tried upon four thousand sturdy and intelligent steelworkers. If an apostle of non-unionism had ventured upon the streets of Homestead that night he would have fared badly.
The next morning, at the call of the officers of the local lodges, 3,000 steelworkers met in the opera house. The chairman of the executive committee stated to the meeting that, at a conference of committeemen representing the eight lodges, held on the preceding evening, it had been decided to submit the question of shutting down the mechanical department of the mills to the steelworkers en masse, irrespective of affiliation with the lodges, and that the decision thus arrived at should be binding on all. This report was approved and a motion was made that a committee be appointed to request the mechanics and day laborers to quit work at once. A workman asked if the watchmen were to be included, and another answered: "Three years ago the watchmen wanted to come out and now they must come."
The motion passed amid tremendous cheering.
The chairman of the executive committee, resuming his address, refuted the report spread through the newspapers that six or seven hundred mechanics and day laborers had signed a scale arranged by the firm. A committee of this class of workmen, he said, had waited on General Manager Potter and had been thrust aside pending the settlement of the tonnage men's wages. After this, the mechanics and laborers had resolved to cast their lot with the Amalgamated Association, and had signified their decision to the lodges.
William Roberts, chairman of the conference committee, which had waited on Mr. Frick by authority of the Amalgamated convention, took the platform and detailed the action of his committee. Mr. Roberts told of the committee's offer to concede a basis of $24 and of the firm's demand that the scale terminate on the last day of the year. "We wouldn't agree to this," he said, "and I now ask you had we any right to do so?"
"No! No! No!" shouted 3,000 voices.
The speaker described how, when the committee presented as its last and only demands that a $24 basis be adopted and that the scale expire on the last day of June, Mr. Frick jumped to his feet and exclaimed hotly: "Gentlemen, that ends all conferences between you and this firm." "So you see," Mr. Roberts went on to say, "This is not a strike. The firm put a snag in our road.... We filled our contract. Now the firm has laid the entire mill off one day ahead of time. Has it lived up to its contract?"
Again 3,000 voices shouted "No," and the action of the wage conference committee was ratified without a dissenting voice.
A resolution was offered providing that, in case any man left Homestead during the coming trouble without permission from the lodge officials, the men should refuse to work with him on his return. The chairman asked all who were in favor of the resolution to rise. Instantly every man in the hall sprang to his feet and the resolution was adopted with three cheers and a tiger, followed with hisses for H. C. Frick.
A motion to appoint a press committee, consisting of one member from each of the eight lodges, was carried after a discussion as to unreliable reports. The membership of this committee was kept secret for the time being.
A whirlwind of excitement was roused when a speaker told of a report that 200 non-union workmen were coming to Homestead disguised in the blue uniform of Pinkerton detectives. "Watch the depots," was the unanimous cry that followed this alarmist statement.
When, after a session of two hours, the meeting adjourned, there remained not the least doubt as to the unity of feeling among all classes of workers in the town. Every man was ready to enter upon relentless strife, and if there was a coward or malingerer in any quarter, he wisely held his peace.
After the general meeting, the eight lodges held a secret session, at which an advisory committee was appointed, with full power to direct the workmen's campaign. This body, which played the most important part in the tragic drama soon afterwards enacted, was composed of the following members: David H. Shannon, John McLuckie, David Lynch, Thomas J. Crawford, Hugh O'Donnell, Harry Bayne, Elmer E. Ball, Isaac Byers, Henry Bayard, T. W. Brown, George W. Champene, Isaac Critchlow, Miller Colgan, John Coyle, Jack Clifford, Dennis M. Cush, William McConeghy, Michael Cummings, William Combs, John Durkes, Patrick Fagan, W. S. Gaches, Nathan Harris, Reid Kennedy, John Miller, O. O. Searight, John Murray, M. H. Thompson, Martin Murray, Hugh Ross, William T. Roberts, George Rylands and George W. Sarver.
Special committees were appointed to patrol the river stations and all entrances to the town. The patrols were directed to cover their beats night and day and report to the advisory committee. Arrangements were also made to have the river patrolled in skiffs, and the steamboat "Edna" was secured to aid in this service.
Headquarters were established in a commodious public hall, with accommodations for telegraph operators, the committee being expected to maintain communication with all parts of the country, so as to obtain instant information of any movement of non-union men designed for service at Homestead. The liquor saloons were visited and the proprietors requested to use special precautions against the promotion of drunkenness and disorderly gatherings, under pain of being required to close their establishments.
Eight effigies of Carnegie officials were cut down by the committee, and notice was given that persons outraging decency in this manner in the future would be disciplined.
The burgess of the town, John McLuckie, was informed that he might call upon the Amalgamated Association for whatever number of men he might deem necessary to assist him in preserving the peace.
In short, the government of Homestead had now passed absolutely into the hands of the advisory committee of the Amalgamated lodges, and the committee was determined to use its arbitrary authority for the preservation of order and decency and the protection of life and property as well as the exclusion from Homestead of non-union men, better known to the unionist as "scabs" or "black sheep."
On July 2 the entire force of employees at the Carnegie mills was paid off and served with notices of discharge.
With the exception of a slight altercation between General Manager Potter and some of the men who were guarding one of the gates of the mill there was no disorder.
Secretary Lovejoy now made his final statement on behalf of the firm declaring the mill to be permanently non-unionized. "Hereafter," he said, "the Homestead steel works will be operated as a non-union mill. We shall not recognize the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in our dealings with the men. The mill will be an open one where all men may work regardless of their affiliation with a labor organization. There will be, no doubt, a scale of wages; but we shall deal with the men individually; not with any organization. Such a thing as a union will not be recognized. There will be no further conferences with the Amalgamated Association."
The mammoth steel plant was now deserted, except by a few watchmen and the government steel inspectors, with whom the advisory committee did not interfere.
The locked-out men were perfectly organized and ready to fight against any odds at a moment's notice. A report that strangers were on the way to Homestead along either of the railroads brought a battalion of stalwart fellows to the stations on the outskirts.
Mr. Frick might as well have undertaken to storm Gibraltar as to introduce a force of non-unionists into the town.
Meanwhile the convention of the Amalgamated Association had finished its business, elected new officers, including a successor to President Weihe in the person of Mahlon M. Garland, and left it to a committee to fight it out with the manufacturers. This the committee was doing with considerable success. The ominous turn which affairs were taking at Homestead, together with the endless reproaches heaped upon the graceless beneficiaries of the protective tariff by Mr. Harrison's campaign managers had a most discouraging effect on the manufacturers' committee and it was plain to be seen that the "fight all along the line," inaugurated a month before, was to end in a compromise favorable to the Amalgamated Association.
Mr. Frick was left to do his own fighting, single-handed and alone.