Steelworkers Out on Strike
On May 26, 1937, SWOC launched a strike against Little Steel after attempting for a year to negotiate with the companies. The strikers wanted a union, the ability to negotiate as a group with their employers, and the right to strike and picket. These rights had been denied for decades to most American workers, but they had been enacted into federal law two years earlier, via the Wagner Act, a legislative centerpiece of the Roosevelt administration’s “Second” New Deal. And the U.S. Supreme Court had held the Act constitutional only weeks before the strike began in the landmark decision NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel. But as the men who ran the steel companies saw things, the letter of the law could not trump their prerogatives as industrial capitalists. True to the industry’s tradition of violent and effective opposition to organized labor, Little Steel aggressively resisted SWOC’s organizing efforts and refused the union’s demands. The companies defied the Wagner Act and the authority of the agency charged with enforcing it, the National Labor Relations Board. And they bucked a trend among other large industrial employers during that same period, including U.S. Steel, which had begun to work with the unions and workers and retreat from decades of absolute opposition to basic labor rights.