The Spirit of Unrest: From Stalemate to Walkout
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 6, Professor White examines the beginning of the Little Steel Strike:
In 1937, U.S. Steel Corporation was so massive that it gave rise to the monicker "Little Steel" for its four competitors, Republic Steel Corporation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company, and Inland Steel Company, each ranked among the hundred largest firms in America. There was some sense, therefore, on March 13, 1937, when U.S. Steel signed a historic collective bargaining agreement with SWOC, the nascent Steel Workers Organizing Committee, that Little Steel would follow suit.
So, on March 30, 1937, SWOC proposed an agreement similar to the one with U.S. Steel to Little Steel. The proposal sought an eight-hour work day, a forty-hour work week, overtime pay, a $5-per-day minimum wage, paid vacations, health and safety standards, seniority, and procedures for resolving grievances. Rather than sign, however, Little Steel representatives met and debated, dragged their feet, sent spies to infiltrate SWOC, and literally prepared for battle: the companies bought poison gas and other weapons, hired private police, donated weapons to official law enforcement and encouraged law-enforcement officials to hire more deputies, stocked their plants with food and bedding, installed search lights and barbed wire, and fired hundreds of union workers.
Two months later, on May 26, 1937, SWOC authorized a strike. Within days, 67,000 workers were off the job and the scattered violence that began to erupt was a harbinger of more dire things to come.