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What Had to Be Done: The Struggle at the Mill Gates


Part I of The Last Great Strike discusses the Open Shop Era, which preceded and laid the groundwork for the Little Steel Strike. Part II, which includes Chapters 6 through 10, discusses the Strike itself. In Chapter 8, Professor White examines a series of often-violent skirmishes between companies and workers that evidence a desperate attempt by the former to keep the mills open and by the latter to shut them down:


In Monroe and Warren, Michigan, Youngstown, Ohio, and Niles, Illinois, the steel companies were planning to do whatever it took to keep their mills open. They organized back-to-work campaigns, built coaltions with politicians, businesspeople, and police, and fortified their plants with weaponry. They even offered bribes to workers who would support them. In Youngstown, the Mahoning County sheriff, siding with the companies, added 152 special police to his force, purchased over $13,000 worth of gas weapons, and obtained two armored vehicles. And this was not an anomoly. Similar preparations were taking place in other cities.


The strikers, meanwhile, were attempting to exercise what they saw as their right to picket. Sometimes, they were peaceful. Picket lines were often populated by women, including women carrying babes in arms, and punctuated with social activies, like dancing. Other times, though, the strikers were violent. When, for example, Republic Steel used airplanes to resupply loyal workers holed up in plants, strikers shot at them. As one striker put it later, "The idea was to do what had to be done."


In the end, it seemed that, no matter what the strikers did, peacful or otherwise, the companies and law enforcement responded with violence. As a result, the discourse around the strike began to center on the need to keep the peace--even at the expense of labor rights.




The Open Shop














Strikers' Stories

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