Original Document
Original Document
Narrative of an unnamed rank and file union leader, 1940.

Take my own case, for example. I've been a steel worker since I left school at the age of fourteen to work as a scrap boy in Vandergrift at $1.10 a day. That was in 1906. After that, I moved from mill to mill and worked my way up from doubler to matcher, to heater helper, to rougher, and finally to a roller's job at the Thomas Mill in Niles, Ohio, where I made from $25 to $30 a day in 1926.

I joined the Amalgamated, as a matter of course, in 1910 in Youngstown and became chairman of the mill committee right away at the age of eighteen. When the 1919 strike broke, I was in the Western Reserve mill in Warren, Ohio. I was a rougher and roller making good money. There was a strong lodge of the Amalgamated in the rolling mill and I was chairman of the mill committee there also. At the beginning of the strike only the laborers were called out by the international officers. That meant that the rollers were scabbing on the others. We held a meeting of the lodge and called ourselves out. That was my first experience with the narrow policies of the international officers. After our local strike call, the company was forced to shut down tight for more than six weeks. During that time I worked in the Youngstown offices of [William Z.] Foster's Committee to Organize Iron and Steel Workers. I got an idea of the kind of opposition that organized labor is up against. After the strike failed, I tried to keep the lodge going in the hot mill as long as I was there.

I married an Irish immigrant girl in 1916. Her brothers were all steel workers. We had two children, one of whom died as a baby. My wife died in 1924 and I married again in 1930, and we have had two more children. During the war I was drafted in class 4B but was never called. I've been a Democrat all my voting life except in 1932 when I voted for Norman Thomas. During the 'twenties I moved around all over the Mahoning Valley, partly because of better jobs in other mills but also because the big merger movement resulted in continual closings and transfers.

When the depression struck, I was working in the Brier Hill mill of Youngstown Sheet and Tube making seventeen to eighteen dollars a day as a finisher. There was no lodge of the Amalgamated at Brier Hill, but there was still a company union which had been started during the war and had held over. Some of the old Amalgamated men there wanted me to run for a position as employee representative. This was early in 1933, before the N.R.A. So I did run and was elected and made chairman of the council. We then turned the whole company union over to the Amalgamated and got a charter. Almost the entire sheet mill signed up. I was elected president of the lodge and the other lodge officers and I resigned from the company union. We had planned to do this and had told the men what we were up to.

The company didn't raise much of a fuss at first. But a few weeks later all the lodge officers and leading members were called into the company offices. The spokesman for the company started off very hard boiled and announced that the company would stick to its nonunion policy. I was the spokesman for our group and after about an hour's talk the company had agreed to everything that we wanted except open recognition. They posted a notice that anyone could join the union and they were willing to meet with our mill committee to discuss anything that we brought up. They even allowed us to sign up members on company time and property. They refused open recognition because of pressure from customers and other steel employers, but we had everything that was necessary to make a strong union.

We gave our members good service. We secured regular hours of work and cut out the chiseling at the end of shifts. We got the men the right to question the sheets that were discarded as imperfect, and the company agreed to pay 70 per cent of the regular rate for them. We lightened the work load by requiring extra men during the hot weather and on certain heavy sizes and weights of work. Wage adjustments were made that raised the rates on some underpaid jobs as much as 30 per cent. And we set up a system that resulted in quick handling of grievances. It was a good demonstration of what a union can do for the average steel worker.

Credit: Robert R.R. Brooks, As Steel Goes: Unionism in a Basic Industry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 47-49.
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