The Steel Strike -- By: Ernest Ludlow Bogart

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 059:234 (Apr 1902)
Article: The Steel Strike
Author: Ernest Ludlow Bogart

The Steel Strike

Prof. Ernest Ludlow Bogart

2. Conclusions

The history of the steel strike has already been narrated;1 it is proposed in this article to consider briefly the mistakes which marked this strike, and its effect upon the cause of trade-unionism. And, first, the conclusion is irresistible, even after the briefest survey, that the steel strike was unwisely inaugurated and badly managed. The men were throughout peaceful and orderly, and, in general, obedient to the commands of the leaders. The mistakes that were made were those of leadership. Mr. Shaffer vastly over-estimated the strength of the Amalgamated Association, and under-estimated the power of resistance of the Steel Corporation. He, in common with many other labor leaders, did not appreciate that, while an employer is in a relatively weaker position than the laborers before a strike, and can often be forced to large concessions by fear of a strike; yet, when once the struggle is begun, the capitalist can hold out much longer than the laborer.2 As a matter of fact the Steel Corporation claimed that it lost but little, if anything, by reason of the strike, for it gave them an opportunity to make needed improvements in the closed mills, while the orders were transferred, as far as possible, to the non-union mills which continued in operation.

In estimating the relative strength of the two parties, Mr. Shaffer judged that the enormous capitalization of the Steel Corporation would prove an element of weakness, and lead to a speedy victory for the union. Since a strike would lower the price of the stock on the stock market, the corporation would not dare run the risk of a suspension of work, but would yield as soon as the price of the stock declined. It was probably the first instance where a labor leader put his trust in the stock market to help win his battles. Mr. Shaffer was mistaken, however, in his judgment; the market value of steel stock declined but little as a result of the strike, and quickly rallied. It was currently reported at the time that the trust had a fund of $200,000 which was used for the purpose of maintaining the price of the stock. Whether this was true or not, the public remained a liberal buyer all through the period of the strike.

Mr. Shaffer also counted on the unpopularity of the trust, but public opinion, which would have rallied quickly to the side of labor had there been any question of oppression by the Steel Corporation, refused to support the union in its demands. In fact, the attitude of the officers of the trust throughout the dispute, and their forbearance in not exacting ...

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