Homestead, Pennsylvania 1881 Homestead lies across the Monongahela River from the southeastern edge of Pittsburgh.
Homestead, Pennsylvania 1881 Laid out in 1871, the borough developed with the growth of Andrew Carnegie's steel empire. The steelworks opened in Homestead borough in 1881 and was called the Homestead Works. The steel industry was crucial to Homestead.
Carnegie buys Homestead In 1883 Andrew Carnegie bought his rival steel company, Homestead Mill.
Steel Steel is King Carnegie is the King of Steel
Unions Welcome (not) Carnegie proposed that he was a friend of the worker and supported unions in the 1880s however… In 1886 his steel mill laborers worked 12-hour days, 7 days a week, with new immigrants being paid just $9 a week, less than they were making in Europe. After a strike in 1889, Amalgamated had to settle for a sliding wage scale that paralleled the profits of the plant in exchange for continuing union recognition.
These workers won a strike and negotiated a three-year contract for a sliding scale wage which was determined by the fluctuating market prices of 4 x 4 standard Bessemer steel billets. It was the best they could do. The contract was to expire on June 30, 1892.
Prior to the Strike Andrew Carnegie started the Homestead Strike with his attack against the standard of living of the workers and his bid to break the union representing the highest skilled workers. In early 1892, Carnegie announced his intention to impose an 18 percent pay cut but the real issue was whether the Homestead steel workers would be union or non-union. An ultimatum was issued for workers to accept the wage cut by June 24th or face mass layoffs.
Prior to the Strike In 1892, when the contract came up for renewal and the July deadline approached, Carnegie and his Homestead president, Henry Clay Frick, made a decision based on economics. The steel industry was in the midst of a general business slowdown and if profits were to be maintained near existing levels, the number of workers would have to be reduced. In addition, the union had to deal with the fact that labor-saving devices were constantly being created, thus further impinging on their jobs. So job cuts were inevitable.
The Amalgamated Amalgamated association of Iron and Steel Workers union, which represented the skilled workers, about 750 of the plant’s 3,800 employees, established an Advisory Committee to coordinate the struggle against Carnegie’s attacks. In June, at a mass meeting of 3,000 workers from all categories, union and non-union voted overwhelmingly to strike. The company shut down the works on June 28. Frick refused to negotiate. By June 30, the day the contract expired, 1100 men were locked out. A 12 foot high fence, 3 miles long, erected earlier, kept workers out.
STRIKE!STRIKE! SCABS The striking workers took over the perimeter of the mill and ringed the plant patrolling the Monongahela River (which ran alongside the mill) to prevent anyone from entering, especially the SCABS hired to replace the steel workers on strike. Local sheriff's deputies failed to retake the plant on July 5.
STRIKE!STRIKE! 300 paid Pinkerton Detective Agency guards tried to seize the plant to re-open it on the night of July 5. The Pinkertons approached the plant silently from the river on barges pulled by tugboats. Strikers learned of their plan. Pinkertons attempt to land at 4 am was thwarted. Workers warned the guards to remain on the boats. The crowd of surged as guards refused the warning. A shot was fired; both sides opened fire.
STRIKE!STRIKE! The battle lasted 14 hours. Strikers rolled a flaming freight train car at the barges. Dynamite was tossed to sink the boats. They pumped oil into the river set it on fire. The Pinkertons surrendered in the afternoon.
DeathDeath Three detectives and nine workers were dead. Workers declared victory, but it was a short celebration.
The State Militia The governor of Pennsylvania ordered the 12,000 militia to Homestead. Armed with rifles and Gatling guns, they took the plant. Strikebreakers arrived on locked trains, unaware of their destination or the presence of a strike,and took over the work in the steel mills.
Result On November 17, the first break in the ranks occurred when day laborers and mechanics voted to return to work. Other workers followed. After four months the strikers gave up and gave in. The union ran out of money and the strikers needed to work. Some of the strikers were rehired. Strike leaders were blacklisted, lost their jobs, and could not find work anywhere else because of their involvement in the union strike.
Homestead was one of the most important strikes of the 1890s. It set industrial policy for years to come. Workers lost rights to bargain with management for wages as well as to participate in making decisions in the work place. For 45 years after 1892, the steel industry was mostly non-union, noted for its low wages and 12 hour workdays.