THIS MONTH IN HISTORY: MAY 1937
Companies Spend Obscene Amounts to Defeat Steelworkers
In May 1937, the steel companies moved quickly to prepare for a looming strike. Youngstown Sheet & Tube contemplated spending “several million dollars” to defeat the union (one million in 1937 dollars would be nearly seventeen million today . . . so "several million dollars" could be upwards of sixty-eight million). By May, the company had already set aside $550,000 to address such "contingencies" (in today's dollars, this would be over nine million). The company also buried its machine guns in coke piles at one of its plants—presumably to hide them from federal authorities who were trying to mediate between workers and capital. Meanwhile, Republic Steel purchased $50,000 worth of munitions—mostly potent “sickening” gas—to be used against strikers. In today's dollars, this would be over $800,000 worth of poison. To put into perspective how much money was being made at the top levels in these companies, Tom Girdler, the chairman of Republic Steel's board of directors, was making an annual salary of $175,000 (nearly three million dollars today). This was a healthy salary, though by industry standards not an extraordinary one.