Big and Little Steel
Little Steel Strikes
The Memorial Day Massacre
The Struggle Intensifies
The Women's Day Massacre
The Strike's Revival
By Benjamin Blake, Western Reserve Historical Society
Surprisingly, this defeat of SWOC's last stand against Republic did not destroy the union's campaign in Little Steel. Even blacklisting and long-term unemployment did not break the spirit of many union men. Ed Beck, a blacklisted Youngstown SWOC organizer, remembered paying union dues out of the money he earned on a government relief job, breaking "rock with a sledge along with hundreds of other young steelworkers." When the full force of the Depression returned in the fall of 1937, Beck recalled that workers who had crossed the picket line now faced a new situation: "a good many of those people had gone back to work with promises from the company that they were going to be the 'fair-haired' boys and the company was going to take good care of them. Then, [when the Depression returned] they came out to work and break rock along with the rest of us, they were ready to agree with us union people."
When the economy recovered under the impact of the World War II, SWOC emerged even stronger than it had been at the beginning of the Little Steel strike. In 1942, fearing a return of the spirit of 1937, and under intense government pressure to maintain war production, Little Steel management surrendered without the formality of a representative election. Republic was even forced to pay over $20 million in back pay for workers it had blacklisted in 1937. Tom Girdler did not retire to his potato farm, but rather remained a captain of the steel industry.
In the end, SWOC won the war with Little Steel, but the cost was high. The CIO never regained the energetic spirit it had in early 1937, and was forced to divert huge resources into maintaining the Little Steel campaign rather than expanding into new areas of organizing. Within manufacturing, Republic's short-term success stiffened some employers' resistance to the CIO. At the same time, a number of AFL unions reinvented themselves as industrial organizations and gave the CIO new competition. Under these difficult circumstances, Phil Murray, now president of the CIO, would try in vain to use the leverage of World War II to rekindle his vision of industrial democracy. Facing these forces, the CIO would be critically reshaped back toward a more modest perspective of "bread and butter" unionism, which would become the mark of its success in the post World War II years.