Homstead STeel Strike 1892
Homestead Steel Works in 1900
The first large industrial strike against the Carnegie Steel Works was eventually broken by state militia. The strike began when the company demanded a wage cut of 18-26%. The union refused. They were locked out, and in turn, closed the plant. After Pinkerton guards failed to dislodge the strikers, the state militia removed them successfully.
The Carnegie Steel Company had made many technological advances in the late 1890’s.
Steel could not be made that was good for structural beams and armor plating for the navy. This increased the demand for steel. In the meantime it developed new means of production that required less skilled employees to produce steel. One of Carnegie’s large plants was Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works in Homestead Pennsylvania. The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers had organized the land in 1881 and the management complained that the Union practically ran the plant. There had been a violent strike in 1889 which the Union clearly won.
Andrew Carnegie placed Henry Clay Frick in charge of the company's operations and vowed to break the Union at Homstead. The labor agreement at the plant was due to expire on June 30, 1892. The Union and the company entered into negotiations in February. The company was doing well and the Union which represented 800 of the 3,800 workers in the plant demanded a large wage increase. Instead the company offered to cut their wages by 22%. The goal was to break the Union. When no agreement was reached the company locked out the workers on June 29th. The Union with the help of other Unions then surrounded the plant and would not let any non union workers in. The company tried to hire new non union workers for the plant, but there was no way to get them in. The Company hired Pinkerton Guards to lead an assault on the plan in order to break the strike. The strikers however, were ready and had the residents of the town fully mobilized on their side. A fire fighter broke out when the Pinkerton tried to advance from the River side of the plant, but they were outgunned and out numbers. After an battle that went on an off all day, the Pinkertons surrendered.
The company turned to the state government claiming that law and order had broken down in Homstead asking him to send in the National Guard. Governor Robert Pattison agreed, and sent over 4,000 troopers to the plant. They quickly gained control of the plant and broke the strike and broke the union.