Defeats At The Workplace, In The Media, And Within The New Corporate Order: The Homestead Strike, A Lost Cause For American Labor

3236 words - 13 pages

In the mid-nineteenth century, industrial America witnessed an evolving struggle between labor and big business. Although fiercely opposed by industrialists, rising labor movements in the steel and iron industries, which had become increasingly critical to the U.S.’ modernization and emergence as a world power, experienced initial success for decades up until the early 1890s. The strongest union in the industries, the Amalgamated of Iron and Steel Workers (AAIS) was able to garner support from an increasing membership and national recognition from other labor organizations as well as from the press, and in 1892, rose to meet the challenge of the powerful Carnegie Steel Company.
As many steel workers recognized, the underlying issue of the AAIS’ legitimacy and survival proved central to the 1892 Homestead Strike, one of the bloodiest labor confrontations to date. Ultimately, despite workers’ efforts, the strike brought about the destruction of the AAIS by the Carnegie Corporation, as its outcome revealed the vulnerabilities of union organization against corporate power during the Gilded Age. Thus, due to the AAIS’ capitulation to a combination of internal and external threats to its legitimacy and authority, the Homestead Strike ultimately failed to produce enduring advancement for the cause of American labor. This decisive failure was the result of the development of technological innovations contributing to workers’ loss of control over workplace conditions, the union’s later negative association with radical Socialist and anarchist forces, and lastly, its vulnerability to the Carnegie Co.’s strategy and moves to. Hence, due to the union’s debilitating setbacks at the workplace, in the company, and in the media, the battle of supremacy in U.S. steel and iron production was ultimately a victory for American big business.
The AAIS had grown in its influence and achievements since the 1850s. Labor organization in the steel and iron industries began in 1858 when Pittsburgh puddlers, (skilled workers who refined iron), reacted against wage reductions during the economic depression of the 1857 Panic by joining to form the first union, the Sons of Vulcan, a move which prompted other ironworkers to unionize as well. Finally, in 1875, skilled heaters, rollers, and puddlers convened in Pittsburgh to join forces and form the AAIS. The AAIS went on to enjoy great success during next few decades: over the next sixteen years, membership rose by 50% from 16,000 to 24,000, as it accumulated power in the iron industry. Its achievements for its workers earned the AAIS national recognition: from 1880 to 1890, it effectively unionized nearly all iron mills in Allegheny County of Pennsylvania, center for iron and steel production, and reached agreements on union contracts with manufacturers. Hailed by the Pittsburgh Tribune as “beyond question the most powerful labor organization in the world,” the AAIS was recognized by the Knights of Labor, which...

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