- Historic Sites
Battle At Homestead
The furnaces were cooled, and Carnegie’s great steel plant stood empty—but dawn would bring one of the bloodiest labor-management struggles in U.S. history
April 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 3
The debate outside the theatre was still in lively progress. Assuming that all the Pinkertons were not to be slaughtered, which in particular should be selected for a mock trial and then hanged? How many others should be held as hostages? Eventually Weihe managed to stop all this nonsense, but it was after midnight when the Pinkertons were placed, not without difficulties and further unpleasantness, aboard a special five-car train which carried them to Pittsburgh and out of history. As it huffed from the station, its battered occupants were given three sarcastic cheers.
It is difficult to estimate the casualties emanating from this episode, one of the most sanguinary in American labor annals. Sources differ; and men continued to die here and there for weeks to come. Bullets, beatings, drowning, and suicide brought the death toll to approximately nine strikers and seven Pinkertons. Some forty strikers and twenty Pinkertons were shot, and nearly all of the Pinkertons were injured in varying degrees while running the gantlet.
The workers had won the battle but not, by any means, the war. Events had forced Governor Pattison’s hand, and with utmost reluctance he ordered the state militia to Homestead on July 11. Under its protection, imported strikebreakers seeped into the mill. Meanwhile, at every other Carnegie plant all employees had walked out on sympathy strikes. For weeks the entire company was idle, but in time the new men (the use of whom Mr. Carnegie had formerly deplored time and again, in print) pushed the production curve almost back to normal.
Stubbornly but with decreasing hope the strikers—a total of thirteen thousand now—held out. An unsuccessful attempt by a lone-wolf anarchist named Alexander Berkman to murder Frick harmed their cause badly. When the strike finally collapsed in November, thirty-five men were dead as a result of the July 6 battle and subsequent violence. The Amalgamated was smashed locally and, except on paper, nationally. Wages in all Carnegie mills were cut even more brutally than Frick had promised in June. The average slash (on a tonnage basis) came to about fifty per cent. For example, a heater’s helper earning $0.0485 per ton in February, 1892, was receiving $0.0222 per ton in February, 1894. The twelve-hour day was enforced with a vengeance, and all members of the union’s advisory committee were black-listed for life throughout the iron and steel industry.
Many so-called anti-Pinkerton state laws, plus soulsearching within the agency itself, ended the role of “detectives” as armies-for-hire after Homestead, although individual agents continued to operate in a big way as spies among the steelworkers.
Company profits soared spectacularly, reaching $40,000,000 net in the year 1900, as against $4,300,000 in 1891 and (curiously) almost the same amount in 1892. In 1901 a supertrust, the United States Steel Corporation, was organized by J. P. Morgan, with the Carnegie grouping as its backbone. Steelworkers struck time and again after the Homestead debacle. They always lost. The nonunion era ended finally in 1936, when the Steel Workers Organization Committee—soon to be part of the C.I.O.—reorganized the workers. Following this victory, a tall, somber monument was erected at Eighth and West streets in Homestead. It still stands, and its inscription reads: