The Homestead Strike
As depressed steel prices scattered across Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, corporations continued to grow in power. Working conditions diminished, forcing dedicated steelworkers to conform although they were extremely unsatisfied. The Homestead Strike, which lasted from June to November of 1892, is one of the many episodes of conflict concerning rights of labor during American History. The overt violence fabricated by this labor movement is immersed throughout the town.
Backstory and Context
With a three-year contract coming to an end, the most powerful corporation, owned by Andrew Carnegie, instituted longer hours and lower wages for its steelworkers at Homestead Mill. The prompt proposition led to an outraged response from union workers, becoming one of the most significant labor conflicts in American History. In June 1892, the union workers of Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers refused to attend to the production demands of Carnegie. In response, Carnegie told Henry Clay Frick, the Homestead plant manager, to lock the workers out to prohibit their entrance into the mill. However, the workers counteracted with violence and resistance to the orders. So on the morning of July 6, 1892, Frick ordered for 300 Pinkerton guards to arrive by barge in hopes of gaining control of the chaos. Upon arrival, thousands of steelworkers and local citizens successfully bombarded the guards, forcing them to surrender after 14 hours of confrontation.
The Homestead Strike set a precedent for any union seeking to reign against the powerful collaboration of the state and federal troops. Although Andrew Carnegie was distressed about the extent of violence, he did not do anything to influence the decisions being made by the plant managers. At this point, the mill itself was out of control, along with the town. Frick and Governor William Stone requested that 8,000 militia arrived on July 12 to take over the plant. After the strikebreakers seized control, the union workers who were not killed were charged with lesser crimes, while the strike leaders were charged with murder. The Homestead Strike officially ended on November 20, 1892, sweeping the unions out of the Pittsburgh area. Those who survived the strike were forced to accept reduced pay, twelve-hour work shifts, and the elimination of the Amalgamated Association.
Although the Homestead Strike led to the serious weakening of unions in the steel industry, Pittsburgh continued to thrive through production despite the new working conditions. As a result of the devastating experience, Andrew Carnegie carried the guilt of the lives lost in response to these attacks. Carnegie responded to a note from Governor Gladstone, "It is expecting too much of poor men to stand by and see their work taken by others. . . The pain I suffer increases daily. The Works are not worth one drop of human blood. I wish they had sunk." Six years later, he returned to Homestead to build the Carnegie of Homestead. He hoped the multipurpose building would be a contribution to the community to boost their development.
Seen in Literature
The Homestead Strike appears in fiction, as well as historical scholarship. Thomas Bell's Out of This Furnace also discussed the Homestead Strike. In the novel, Bell's characters, Slovak immigrants, work in the steel industry in western Pennsylvania. His character Andrej mentioned the strike in the novel. This work of fiction brought in true events in history to show a broader understanding of Slovak immigrants in Pennsylvania's history.
"Homestead Strike Historical Marker." Explore PA History. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-235
"The Homestead Strike." PBS: The American Experience." 1999. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/peopleevents/pande04.html
Stout, Mike and Joni Rabinowitz. "The Homestead Battle Revisited." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 7, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2015/10/07/The-Homestead-battle-revisited/stories/201510070002