Lessons from the 1937 Little Steel strike in the US

 

Book review

Lessons from the 1937 Little Steel strike in the US

The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America, by Ahmed White

By
Tom Mackaman

23 January 2017

The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America, by Ahmed White, University of California Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0520285613.

Given its size, violence, and political importance, it might seem strange that the Little Steel Strike of 1937 is so forgotten.

In the midst of the Great Depression, 80,000 steelworkers went out on strike in a swath of industrial America stretching from Chicago to central Pennsylvania, defying some of the world’s most viciously antiunion corporations in a bitter fight for recognition of their right to organize in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), one of the divisions of the new Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO—later Congress of Industrial Organizations).

The owners of “Little Steel”—the moniker given to US Steel’s competitors Republic Steel, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company, and Inland Steel—and their pawns in state and local government, met the workers with savage violence, killing 18, including 10 at the notorious Memorial Day Massacre of peacefully demonstrating strikers gunned down by the Chicago Police Department. The steelworkers were ultimately defeated, but not for lack of fight.

Memorial Day Massacre. This iconic photo was taken by Carle Linde, Associated Press

If the Little Steel Strike has been ignored, it is perhaps because it does not fit the standard narrative of American labor history.

In that story, Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, with his New Deal, embarked on the path of liberal reformism, first granting and then enforcing…

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