Page images

had not yet been introduced, either at the blast furnaces, the open-hearth furnaces, or the rolling mills. Natural gas for use as fuel and at the soaking pits was about the only advantage that American iron and steel plants had over similar plants in the Midlands, the North of England, and in Scotland. Transport equipment by rail and water, and machinery for loading and unloading, were of the old style of the period before the ore carried down the Great Lakes reached the ten-million ton mark in 1895; and there was little, except size of railway cars, to differentiate it from the equipment used at this time in the iron and steel industry of England and Scotland.

Most of the great changes in mechanical equipment at the ore-mines in the Lake Superior country, at the ore docks of the harbours on the lake, in the steamers for the lake trade designed and built expressly for that service-great floating storehouses, 600 feet long, with the main decks all hatches to facilitate loading and unloading, and the engine-rooms well to the stern-in the unloading machinery at the lower lake ports from which ore is carried to the lakeside furnaces or shipped by rail to furnaces inland, and in the construction of the sixty-ton hopper-bottom steel railway-cars used for this service-all these improvements in transport were made in the decade between the visit of the Iron and Steel Institute and the organisation of the Steel Corporation. So were the electrically-propelled automatic machinery for charging the furnaces, the piglifting and pig-breaking machines, the pig-metal casting machine, and the metal mixer of enormous capacity. These four machines, with the somewhat later mud-gun for filling up the tap-hole of a furnace after a cast has been taken, have done much to humanise the iron and steel industry. The pig-metal caster and the mixer made a free Sunday possible for most men at all stages of the industry beyond the blast furnace; while the automatic charging machinery, in use to-day at all except about three furnaces in the United States and Canada, liberated men from exposure to weather and fumes on the platforms of the older type of furnace, and from the danger attendant on the slipping' of a charge in a blast furnace -the descent of hunks of limestone and ore that are hurled into the air when such a slip' occurs.

The application of electrical power when the openhearth furnaces are charged partly with scrap; at the stripper, where the ingots from the Bessemer converters or the open-hearth furnaces reluctantly part company from the great moulds in which they have been cast; at the soaking pits and the re-heating furnaces; and at the rail, billet and plate mills, was also introduced during this period. To the same period belong the continuous rail and wire-rod mills. These are the mills in which there is no re-heating of the ingot or the bloom, and no interruption, in the case of the wire-rod mill, in the progress from the charge of coke, limestone and ore going into the blast furnace-perhaps two or three miles away from the rod mill-until the rod, ready for the wire-drawer, is loaded on the railway car in which it is carried to the wire-drawing mill, where the processes are much as they were before all these improvements had revolutionised iron and steel manufacturing in the primary and in many of the secondary stages. All, or nearly all, of these improvements belong to the ten years that preceded the organisation of the Steel Corporation.

But these devices and improvements, taken in conjunction with the great reduction in labour costs and the incidental humanising of labour conditions, are of significance from other points of view. They account for the facts that the proportion of skilled to unskilled labour in the industry has decreased since 1890; that in 1910 not more than 40 per cent. of the men in the industry earned over $2 a day, and only 4 per cent. earned over $5 a day; that English-speaking unskilled labourers have been completely displaced by Slavs and Magyars-Hunkies' and 'Guineas,' as they are colloquially called at the plants; that American-born men have come to regard it as degrading to compete with Slavs or Magyars for a job; and, perhaps most important of all, that trade unionism, strong until 1892, has been completely banished from the iron and steel industry.* Besides these changes there occurred in the iron and steel industry, in the decade from 1890 to 1900, four other developments of great importance in the history of our subject. These were the enormous expansion of the industry, the beginning

* Cf. Fitch, 'The Steel Workers,' pp. 4, 142-3, 145, 165,

of the export trade, the revisions of the tariff in 1894 and 1897, and the beginning of the consolidations that culminated in the Steel Corporation. We will take these events in the order given.

I. The break-up of the unions was the great contribution of the Carnegie Company to the economy of the iron and steel industry in the United States between 1890 and 1901. Between 1880 and 1890 all the mills in Alleghany county, Pennsylvania-the county of which Pittsburgh is the centre-were unionised. In the years 1880-1890 the list of manufacturers who signed the union scale was practically a list of the men engaged in the business. 'There were' (writes Mr Fitch, p. 87) 'difficulties and strikes occasionally; there was a long and determined strike in the summer of 1882; and now and then there was a lock-out. But, upon the whole, this decade was the period of most effective agreement between the employers and the men that the National Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, a federation of unions organised in 1875, ever experienced. Each knew and respected the strength of the other; and, while hard blows were dealt on both sides, there was much mutual confidence and goodwill.'

These years of mutual confidence and goodwill were also the years in which employers and employed were a unit in Federal politics; when there was a close political association between the Pittsburgh iron and steel masters and the trade-union leaders: when large delegations of both employers and trade-union leaders went to Washington, either to demand increased protection for the iron and steel industry or to urge that there should be no reductions in the high duties in the iron and steel schedules of the tariffs that preceded the McKinley Act of 1890. The Republicans, who were continuously in power at Washington from 1861 to 1885, brooded lovingly over the industries which paid their owners fifty to a hundred per cent. per annum.'* But in these years, when the Democrats were recovering from the demoralisation which followed the Civil War, they continuously assailed the protective duties which made these financial returns possible; and the iron and steel

* J. H. Bridge, 'Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company,' p. 114.

magnates of those days, who knew themselves to be what Mr Carnegie in June 1884 described as 'creatures of the tariffs,' regarded it as necessary to carry big and enthusiastic delegations of the trade-unionists to Washington to plead for high duties to safeguard labour in the United States from the competition of the 'pauper labour' of England. The result was quite worth the cost. In the early eighties, as a result of the growing demand for steel rails and of the duty of $14 a ton, intended to keep out British competition, rails that cost $34 to $38.50 to make at Pittsburgh were selling at an average price of $56 26; and the profits of the Carnegie Company rose from $512,000 in 1879 to $2,000,000 in 1881. 'But for the tariff these enormous gains would have been impossible.'

With the rupture between the Carnegie Company and the unions came the introduction of labour-saving machinery. 'It was a conflict between the old way and the new way-between the production by muscle and sweat and production by automatic machinery.'†

'Up to the summer of 1889, the wages of workers making merchant steel, or steel to take the place of merchant iron' (writes Mr Bridge, pp. 199-202), 'had not been put upon a settled basis. At first the work was done in iron-mills; and after some discussion the same wages were paid as were given for working iron. With the building of mills especially to work Bessemer and open-hearth steel into merchant sizes and shapes, and with their improved machinery and appliances, the output per worker was very largely increased; and, as the wages were based on tonnage, earnings had grown beyond all reason. Rollers and heaters, for instance, were earning from five to ten times as much as the skilled mechanics who had erected the machinery on which the former worked. . . . During this time some of the men earned from $12 to $15 a day; and Homestead became familiar with the sight of steel workers being driven to the mill in their carriages.'


A general reduction amounting to about 25 per cent. was therefore proposed by the firm; and a suggestion was made for the automatic regulation of future wages by a scale which should follow from month to month the movement of the prices received by the firm for raw

[blocks in formation]

steel. This was naturally resisted by the tonnage men; and both sides prepared for the struggle which seemed unavoidable' (Bridge, ib.). The existing wages scale had still some time to run, and it was April 1892 before the policy of the company was decided upon. What it would be was laid down in a communication from Mr Andrew Carnegie, written from New York, on April 4, 1892, with a view to its being posted at the works.

'These works' (it ran) 'having been consolidated with the Edgar Thomson and Duquesne and other mills, there has been forced upon this firm the question whether its works are to be run 66 union" or 66 non-union." As the vast majority of our employees are non-union, the firm has decided that the minority must give place to the majority. These works, therefore, will be necessarily non-union after the expiration of the present agreement. . . . This action is not taken in any spirit of hostility to labor organisations; but every man will see that the firm cannot run union and non-union. It must be either one or the other.'

The notice of which this was the original draft was not posted. Mr Henry C. Frick, then Mr Carnegie's most prominent and active associate in the Carnegie Steel Company, disapproved of it; and the workmen, instead of being threatened with the immediate non-unionising of the mills, were given until June 24 to decide whether they would accept a new agreement embodying certain reductions in the wages. Mr Frick, in his anxiety to avoid a strike, met the representatives of the Amalgamated Association on June 23; but, although the wages of only 325 men out of the 3800 were affected by the proposed scale, the conference was fruitless, and the men immediately concerned stopped work. Mechanics, labourers, and other employees, who had contracts with the company, and whose wages were not affected by the new scale, were ordered out by the advisory committee of the Amalgamated Association until the Association should be recognised and its terms accepted. It being evident that the order would be obeyed, the Carnegie Company gradually closed several of the departments; and by July 1 there was not a wheel turning nor a furnace alight in the entire Homestead plant.

* It was not made public till 1903 (Bridge, op. cit. p. 204),

« PreviousContinue »