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AMERICA'S WORKING PEOPLE
BY CHARLES B. SPAHR
The Iron Centers
The first part of my visit to the iron „. , district about Pittsburg might
democracy easily be turned into a chapter of "Triumphant Democracy." Indeed, there is no chapter in Mr. Carnegie's book that records industrial triumphs equal to those in his own mills. On the mechanical side they were far more impressive than the machinery exhibits at the Chicago Exposition, and there was absolutely nothing at Chicago that compared with them in depicting the superiority of American to European methods of production. Nor was this superiority merely spectacular. In talking with the managers I found that the fear of European competition was a thing of the past. They were all, so far as I know, protectionists; but their protectionism had none of the insistent quality that was to have been expected in the old citadel of that creed. It was almost like the bimetallism of Colorado bankers. They believed that it was for the good of the country, but they had no need of it in their own industry. A large part of their product they were selling abroad, and their president told me that they could sell the whole of it—or about threefifths of the entire steel product of Pennsylvania—in foreign markets, if they cared to do so. The English price of rails was $22 a ton. The cost of transporting rails to England was over $5 a ton; yet they were able to overleap this barrier and sell their steel in the London market. Instead of needing a tariff to protect them against English competition, they were able to pay the twenty-five per cent, tariff which the railroad and shipping charges imposed in order to enter into competition with the English on their own ground.
Such triumphs for American industry are not, indeed, peculiar to the £edte,'s°n Carnegie works. When I had visited the iron-works in the South, I had found that they, too, were making heavy shipments abroad; and a week later, when talking with an extremely accurate as well as fair-mindtd official of the Illinois Steel Company, I learned that the great competitor of the Carnegie Company was able to pay the freight charges from Illinois to Belgium and still undersell the Belgians. The statement of the case made by the Illinois official was peculiarly compact. In the Belgian works, he told me, the average wages are less than 75 cents a day. In the Illinois works the average wages are in the neighborhood of $1.75 a day. Yet the product of the Illinois works could be sold in Belgium for less than the product of Belgian works. I did not have the opportunity to visit the Illinois works, or I would probably have seen paralleled the sights that impressed me so much at Homestead and Braddock. But at the Pennsylvania works it did not require an acute observer to see the reason for these triumphs of American methods and American men. Everything seemed to be done by machinery. In the Southern iron-works great numbers of negroes were employed with wheelbarrows to carry heavy loads of fuel or ore or metal from one place to another; but in the Carnegie works there was a great network of overhead tracks, on which nearly everything could be shifted in any direction by steam. And the steam itself was often generated in boilers heated by the gas that came from the coke and ore used in making the steel. As you looked about the great buildings, that which was memorable was the human solithe union had demanded the right to appoint the foremen—Mr. O'Donnell met President Schwab's statement with a flat denia1. There was no truth in it whatever, he said. The Knights of Labor might somewhere have made such a demand, but no trade-union had ever assumed to exert such a power. Between conflicting statements like these there seemed no possibility of harmony, except on the supposition that the union's criticism of particular foremen had seemed to the management equivalent to an assertion of the right to appoint them.
On the question of wages also there was difficulty, such as I exand new*"'* perienced nowhere else, in harmonizing the statements of employers and employed. During the previous seven weeks of my journey the employers had agreed pretty closely with the employed in reporting reductions in wages since 1892. In the cotton-mills of New England the cut had been twenty per cent.; on the cotton-fields of the South and among the carpenters and masons of Southern cities it had been nearly forty per cent. The only great industry in which there had been no cut had been among the anthracite coal miners, and here the employers agreed with the employed in reporting a fearful reduction in the number of days the men worked. When, however, I reached the Carnegie works, where the great Homestead strike had taken place, I was surprised to be told at the office that average wages were actually higher than six years before. The department head in charge of the wage-rolls told me this. When, however, I went among the workmen, I found that the truth of this statement was indignantly denied. They admitted that wages were higher in the Carnegie works than anywhere else in the country. All the other steelworks, said one of them, must pay lower wages in order to compete. But when they came to compare present wages with those before the strike and the depression, they asserted that sweeping reductions had taken place. These reductions, however, were relatively light among the lower grades ot labor. For example, a young fellow in the engineers' department, whom I met the first evening, told me that the common workmen, who used to get $1.40 for ten hours, now get §1.32 , while the
engineers, who used to get from $1.90 to $2.75, now get from $1.70 to $2.25. The heavy reductions complained of were among the men doing the most responsible work—especially among the rollers. One workman in this department gave me a detailed statement of the changes, which ran as follows: "The man who had my job," he said, " used to get 19 cents a ton, when the capacity [output] was supposed to be forty tons a day, but we often ran to eighty. From 19 cents the first cut was to 5}4 cents and the next to 4j4. Then there was a ten per cent, raise. Now it is down again. Since the beginning of the year it has been about 4 cents. The capacity is now 120 tons." The roller, he went on, used to get 22 cents a ton net, and now gets approximately 5% cents. If these statements were accurate, then men who used to get from $7.60 to $8.80 a day, or even more, now get from $4.80 to $6.60. I noted that the present wages of the rollers agreed with the employers' estimate of $200 a month if the rollers worked every day, and also that the old wages above referred to were no higher than the Carnegies claimed to be paying at the time of the strike. But otherwise there was no harmony between this man's statement and that of his employers. In asmuch as his manner seemed as judicial as theirs, and only ceased to be so when he got to talking about the black hatred of the men for the despotism over them, I determined to learn what unprejudiced town people thought about the matter.
Among the merchants I thought that what the 'observed the same absence of merchants free speech as existed among sald the working people. However,
among those who talked with me who had been in business before the strike, there was not the least diversity of opinion about the severe reduction of wages. The first one 1 talked with put the case in darker colors than the workmen. "Where we used to sell $2,500 worth of furniture in a single month, we now sometimes barely sell $100 worth. We lost $8,000 at the time of the strike. We hadn't the heart to try to collect of the people when they weren't getting any wages, and some of them lost everything, including the homes on which they had made payments. A good many went away, and those who got their places again have town of Homestead, where the workmen would explain themselves, I found that the impression I had gained was the only one that had been possible. I had entered an entirely different industrial realm. The atmosphere was at times heavy with disappointment and hopelessness. Some of the men seemed afraid to talk. Even the Catholic priest—to whose class I am accustomed to go for fair statements of the relations of men to their employers—was unwilling to make any statement. The one thing he did say was something he supposed self-evident—namely, that the men's earnings were much lower than before the great strike. The absence of freedom resembled that of the small mining villages in the eastern part of the State. It was in sharp contrast with the independence of the old trade-union towns in Massachusetts, and of the new factory towns in the South where the relations between employers and employed are still cordial. If all that I saw while with the managers of the Carnegie works might be described under the title of "Triumphant Democracy," nearly all that I saw while with the men might be described under the title of "Feudalism Restored."
One of the first men whom I found to talk with was the famous Hugh O'Donnell, who was the spokesman of the strikers at the time of the Homestead riots and during the long strike that followed. He was not living in Homestead, but had merely returned from the East for a visit of a day or two with his mother. He told me that the Carnegie managers had made it impossible for him to get work from any steel company in the country. That he could not get such work was obvious, for since the strike he had been making his living much of the time as a reporter, though he was an expert roller—and rollers, the managers assured me, still received nearly §200 a month for their critical work of exploding the " scale" that forms about the steel and measuring with absolute accuracy the beams, rails, etc., that are made. The leader of the great labor war of seven years ago was still a man considerably under forty. His face was handsome and his speech unusually ready. He did not, however, impress one with the reserve power of a born
leader. He knew little about present conditions at Homestead, except the belief of his friends and sympathizers that a low and dishonorable class of people had come to take the strikers' places. On this point I learned from unbiased people that he greatly exaggerated the extent of the change, though from his standpoint, of course—as fram that of Mr. Carnegie a few years before—all woikmen were dishonorable who had broken the commandment, "Thou shalt not take thy neighbor's job." What O'Donnell knew most about was the history of the great strike, and I naturally went over with him the claims of the management respecting it. These were, in brief, that the strike had been fought, not to reduce wages, but to effect "a sensible classification," and that the trade-union had not only resisted such a classification, but had demanded the right to appoint the foremen. As to the first of these claims, O'Donnell, without hesitation, admitted that there was a good deal of truth in it. The union, he said, made a mistake in resisting a new classification. It was inevitable, because of the changing methods of production. Under the old system the roller was practically an independent contractor, receiving so much for every ton, and often receiving exorbitant pay when better machinery increased the output. Under the new system he was reduced to a mere wage-earner under a general superintendent for a whole division. The new classification, therefore, was largely a dethronement of the rollers, but, as is always the case, the best-paid men were also the best organized, and most ready to strike for their claims. They led in the strike, and the men receiving lower pay followed, until both were disastrously defeated, and the last vestige of trades-unionism in the Carnegie works was destroyed. The defeat, said O'Donnell, was practically inevitable, because other iron centers were already disorganized. The union might have given in, but the uncompromising attitude of the management, which was thoroughly hostile to their union, practically forced the strike upon them. As to the unreasonableness of the old classification, what Mr. O'Donnell said was in a marked degree a confirmation of what the managers had told me. As to the other important point, however—the charge that lieved that the hours were being lengthened. The Illinois Steel Company official said that the twelve-hour day was always usual in blast furnaces, but that the eight-hour day was formerly common in steel-works. Now the twelve-hour day is almost universal in this country, though the eight-hour day is universal in England. Crawford's statement was virtually the same, and the reason he assigned for the lengthening of hours here as contrasted with the establishment of the eighthour day in England was the general defeat of unionism in the iron trade here, contrasted with its triumph in Great Britain.
Crawford was not employed by the Carnegie Company, and therefore was labor V a'J't; t0 sPsak freely in favor of unionism. He, too, went over with me the struggles of 1892, and told of his arrest and imprisonment on the charge of homicide and treason. In his case the imprisonment lasted but a single night—a hotel-keeper whom he did not know having gone on his bail, with the remark, " That man's face is good enough for me." During the one night of imprisonment, however, he did not sleep at all, because the prison bed was foul with vermin. "I have always worked for a living," he said, " but we have kept clean." As I looked about the parlor, I felt that his pride on this point was fully justified. The story that followed, however, was of less interest than his comments upon present grievances. The chief grievance, as I have said, was the length of the hours; but the feature of the long hours he complained of most bitterly was the Sunday labor. "Even the blast furnaces," he said, "could be coked down, if the managers wished it; and if the mills would close at one o'clock on Saturday, as they do in England, there would be no need of Sundiy repairing. ... If the Evangelical Alliance, that is trying to get the mills to run less on Sunday, would apply to some of the workmen, they would find that we want to work on Sunday less than the managerssay. . . . I don't believe in Sunday work. It is against the law of the land and against the law of God. The man who gives the people libraries and compels them to work on Sundays is false." This feeling against Sunday labor, which was so strong in Crawford, seemed
to be general. One of the first Irishmen I talked with spoke of the increase of Sunday labor as a result of the overthrow of unionism. "The union," he said, "always restricted Sunday work." Still another workman spoke of the complete disappearance of the old rule of double pay for Sunday work. Since the union's disappearance it was rare to have even "time and a half" allowed for Sunday work. As I heard their complaints about Sunday labor I was reminded of the fact that western Pennsylvania is the stronghold of Presbyterianism, and I was glad to see that the Calvinistic tradition that gave Anglo-Saxon workmen their free Sunday was here an influence in behalf of the Celt, the German, and the Hun. No town I have ever visited observed Sunday much better than JfhHo°mJk-.d Homestead. It is emphatically a town of saloons. Yet on Sunday not a single saloon among the many I passed bore the faintest sign of being open. My own " hotel " was merely a saloon and restaurant, with a few bedrooms on the second story. Yet, when I returned to it at noon on Sunday, and again when I returned about five o'clock, I was absolutely unable to get in. The proprietor had gone off for the day, his son had gone off, and both the servants had followed their example. At noon I was able to get a lunch elsewhere, but when I returned toward evening and was unable to wash and dress in preparation for dinner with an official, I felt that Sunday closing in Homestead was perhaps a trifle too effectual. In the main. Homestead was an unattractive town, but its enforcement of Sunday laws was far from being its only hopeful feature. The private houses— except the shanties on the company grounds occupied by the strike-breakers in 1892—were much better than those of the mining towns, and the schools were in the happiest possible contrast. The buildings were good and the teachers competent. The high-school attendance was small, it is true, for a place of five thousand people—hardly a quarter what it would be in New England or the West— but in the grammar grades there was no thinning out because of child labor in the works. This evil was unknown at Homestead, and even the Hungarians were apt io keep their children In school longer
The real grievances
rarely got ahead and come back to pay up." When it became evident that the small shopkeepers took the same view as the workmen, I went to a man of wealth, whose sympathies were certain to be with the company, and whose knowledge of savings bank and real estate matters made his opinions of exceptional value. His statement of the case was singularly judicial, and to me was convincing. The local merchants, he said, were apt to exaggerate the losses of their customers, because cheap trolley connection with Pittsburg caused a great deal of the buying to be done there. Nevertheless, it was perfectly clear to any one doing business in Homestead that the men were not getting as much money as formerly. He could not understand how any one could suppose that they did.
But it was not the lowering of wages that caused the most bitter complaints among the men. Their wages, even when lowered, were not low, and most of them realized it. Their real grievances were the long hours, the Sunday labor, the strain under which they were compelled to work, and, above all—or rather at the basis of all—the want of freedom to organize. Nobody in Homestead dared openiy to join a trade-union. The president said, without reserve, that he would discharge any man for this offense, and the men all understood that this was the foundation principle of the present order. So far as I could see, no secret union had yet grown up. The men who spoke most bitterly about the prohibition of unions said nothing to intimate that they themselves were still members. The union movement, to all appearances, was dead except in the hopes of the workmen. The management, I afterwards learned, believed that it was dead even here, and that most of the men were glad to have the union outlawed; but 1 saw nothing to support this view. Some of the men I met did not wish to be connected with trades-unions. But there was not one of them but regarded the loss of the right to organize as a restriction of freedom.
There was one man with whom I spent a great deal of time talking
An' old ' man 5" . c , .
»t forty who almost personified the
cause of unionism. His name
was Tom Crawford, and he was one
of the most likable tnen I met on my journey. He had been at the head of the Advisory Committee during the strike, and it was evident that he, rather thanO'Donnell, must have had the real direction of affairs. He had been born in England, and felt somewhat keenly his want of schooling— though it is doubtful if schooling would have developed his executive ability more than the post-graduate course he had been compelled to take. "I have always," he said, " hoped to educate myself, but, after my day's work, I haven't been able to do much studying. . . . After working twelve hours, how can a man go to a library?" Curiously enough, but typically enough, he spoke of himself as " getting too old now," though he was only thirty-six. I expressed my dissent from this view, but he replied, "I don't know any roller over forty. If I can keep it up four years longer-, I shall own my house, and be able to quit independently. ... I have known old rollers, but they have all gone. An old man cannot become anything but a sweeper." This observation agreed pretty well with what I myself had seen in the mills, and, when I referred to it in talking with the official of the Illinois Steel Company, a week later, he practically confirmed it. It is possible, therefore, that the "increase of production " that seems to come from men working twelve hours a day is more than lost through enforced idleness at middle age. Moderate work until fifty-five might produce more material goods—as well as healthier and better men—than excessive work till even forty-five, followed by a protracted old age of partial idleness and frequent dependence.
Both Tom Crawford and the Illinois Work growing Steel Company's official beharder and lieved that in the iron-mills houn, longer WQrk js ^coming harder as time goes on. It is not, however, requir ing more intelligence. Both men believed that, with the new machinery, less skill is needed, but closer attention. "We used to be able," said Mr. Crawford, "to take time to eat our meals like civilized human beings, but now we can only snatch up a bite as we work. . . . Last Friday, when my assistant sloped on account of trouble he got into, and I had a green hand to help me, I wasn't able for twelve hours to get from my post an instant, for any purpose." Both of these men also be