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THE BIRMINGHAM DISTRICT.
The Birmingham district-Industrial history-Obstacles and inducements to immigration-Households studied-Members of households for whom detailed information was secured-Employees for whom information was secured-[Text Tables 654 to 658 and General Tables 375 to 377].
THE BIRMINGHAM DISTRICT.
What is known as the Birmingham district includes the counties of Jefferson, Walker, and Bibb in the State of Alabama. The district is included in the Cahaba district, according to the geologic classification, so named because it is in the basin drained by the Cahaba River. It is by far, taking into consideration the coal and iron-ore mining and the iron and steel production, the most important coal, iron, and steel center of the South. Alabama as a State ranks fifth in the production of coal, and 90 per cent of the total coal output of the State is from the territory included in the Birmingham district. The district includes the city of Birmingham, the smaller cities of Ensley and Bessemer, and numerous towns and villages. Ensley has recently been annexed to Birmingham, together with several other nearby towns and communities, so that the city proper takes in a large part of the closely settled section of the district. For the most part the surrounding towns and villages are communities which are growing up around coal and ore mines and the various iron and steel plants. With the exception of the original city of Birmingham, they are purely industrial settlements, and there is a growing tendency to develop into a large industrial community with the business and shopping center in old Birmingham and the industrial sections wherever the plants and mines may be located.
The chief industrial community is Ensley, where the largest steel plants are located, as well as several other smaller plants. Near Ensley are several groups of coal mines on what is known as the Pratt vein, and mining communities are situated at short intervals. Toward Birmingham proper is Pratt City, where coal mines and coke ovens are operated, and a few miles farther is Thomas, where blast furnaces are situated. North of these places are various coalmining communities. South of Birmingham and toward Bessemer is a range of mountains dotted with iron-ore mining settlements, the mines being operated by the iron and steel companies of the district. Coal mines are also found farther south, with settlements and small towns. At Bessemer are located several small industries and several furnaces and rolling mills. The chief mining communities are
Republic, Cardiff, Pratt City, Wylam, Brookside, Sayreton, and Lewisburg. There are numerous other communities composed entirely of employees living near the openings along the line of the coal or ore veins, making the whole district a fairly well-settled section.
The industrial history of the Birmingham district, as well as the city of Birmingham, dates from about 1870. The city itself was laid off in 1871, although the movement to develop the coal and other mineral resources of the section began as early as 1854. The building of two railroads for this development was not completed, however, until after the civil war, and it was not until then that a community of considerable size existed. Even in 1880, a population of only 3,086 was credited to Birmingham, although other settlements around the mines existed. By 1890 Birmingham proper, however, contained more than 26,000 people, and the 1900 census gave it a population of nearly 40,000, with over 12,000 population in the neighboring towns of Bessemer, Ensley, Pratt City, Cardiff, and Brookside, in addition to which there were a large number of mining villages.
Practically no coal was mined in Alabama prior to the civil war. The same may be said of ore mining and iron manufacture. In 1870, however, several mines were started, and by 1880 about 250,000 short tons were mined in the Birmingham district. This was rapidly increased to 3,000,000 tons in 1890 and nearly 10,000,000 tons in 1902. Iron-ore properties also began to be developed to an appreciable extent between 1870 and 1880. In 1880 nearly 150,000 long tons were mined in this district, 1,250,000 in 1890, and about 3,000,000 tons in 1902. Charcoal furnaces had been operated on a small scale even prior to the civil war, but it was not until 1876 that the first coke furnace was started. This was followed by other furnaces in 1880 and in 1882. Open-hearth furnaces were put into operation in 1888. In 1898 a large steel plant was completed at Ensley and put into operation, establishing the district as an important steel center in the South. Other furnaces were built about ten years later. Rolling mills and blast furnaces were also established at Bessemer, and within the last decade a number of plants manufacturing special iron and steel products, such as pipe, frogs, switches, and similar products, have been started in the district. Since 1900 the number of plants of all kinds has increased to a remarkable extent, and the total output of iron and steel products in the district will probably show in the last decade an increase of over 60 per cent.
As now constituted, the city proper is situated well in the center of the Birmingham district. Within its limits are practically all of the furnaces and the mills, with the exception of those at Bessemer, 10 miles away, and immediately north of the city is a ring of coal mines which extend on either side, east and west. South of the city are the greater number of the ore mines of the district, and in the center of the circle thus rudely suggested are extensive limestone quarries.
It will be seen from the brief summary above that the most rapid development has taken place since 1890, and especially since 1900. That this fact does possess an important significance in the study of
the immigrant in the industries of the Birmingham district may be stated as follows:
First. The rather gradual development of the district as a mining and steel center did not create a demand for labor which was strong enough to necessitate the importation or the immigration of foreignborn labor. The surrounding country in the State, and possibly in the adjoining States, possessed a sufficient surplus of labor supply to allow enough additional employees to come to Birmingham to satisfy the slowly growing demand. Thus, up until about 1894, the labor employed in the district was composed almost entirely of native whites and negroes. A very few English, Welsh, and Scotch drifted in from northern mining and steel centers. As a matter of fact, no urgent demand upon the general labor market of the nation at large was made until about 1905, when in a period of unusual activity which lasted until 1908, it was found that the usual number of available native whites and negroes in Alabama and the adjoining southern States was not sufficient to supply the rapidly growing demand. It was discovered also that other industries in the South and the North were depleting the southern labor supply.
Second. The demand for immigrant labor made itself evident upon the following occasions:
(1) During the coal-miners' strike of 1904.
(2) During the coal-miners' strike of 1908.
(3) During the periods of unusual industrial activity, 1905 to 1907, and 1909, until the present time.
The first two periods will be seen to be unusual, or rather periods not postulated by the normal development of the district, but the last two are unquestionably the results of natural conditions. The largest employers of labor in the district state that under normal conditions, at the present stage of the industrial development of the district, the ordinary labor supply which may be relied upon continuously affords about 50 per cent of the total necessary to operate all plants and mines at their full capacity. The smaller employers, on the other hand, assert that so far as they are concerned the supply of native labor is sufficient. The truth of the situation appears to be that there is what may be termed a "residual" supply of native labor fairly well distributed all over the district. This residual or basic. supply is sufficient for the needs of the smaller operator or the small iron and steel producer. The operation of these mines, a large majority of which produce for the retail trade alone and the special iron and steel producers, is not subject to great increases or reductions. They employ from 25 to 100 and 150 men each, and are not disturbed by fluctuations in the supply of labor. The larger plants and coal operators, as well as the newer ones, who have expanded the most rapidly and have constituted the chief growth of the district, are most affected. They are dissatisfied with the situation for the following reasons:
1. The "residual" labor supply is unsatisfactory. In the first place, the number of native whites who can be drawn upon to furnish additional labor as the demand grows is very small. Secondly, they are, for the most part, not adapted to conditions. They come from the agricultural districts, and the majority are willing to work only during the winter months. Thirdly, the negroes, it is claimed, while possessing many excellent qualities, such as capacity for heavy work
and tractability, are too irregular and shiftless in their habits to be depended upon without a considerable admixture of other races. At the time when the demand for labor is the highest, for instance, and premiums are offered in wages to secure additional labor, the negro is willing only to make a living wage and will work only a sufficient number of days in the week to earn that amount. Fourthly, some of the employers assert that the younger generation of negroes is deteriorating physically, and is less capable of hard work than the older generation which came from the plantations. Finally, it is asserted that a migration of negroes is taking place from the South into the North and West, thus decreasing the supply available to the industries of the Birmingham district.
2. The employers claim that as the result of the increasing demand for more labor, and of the decreasing supply of labor in the section tributary to the Birmingham district, they are seriously handicapped in periods of normal activity. This attitude has been manifested not only in statements made by them in the course of this investigation, but also in conferences on the question of securing immigration into the district from other States and countries. The alleged handicap has existed, they state, in three ways: (a) The Birmingham operators are forced to increase the wages of employees by adding premiums, as was done during the prosperous period of 1907-8, and thus to increase the expenses of production in comparison with other localities in the United States; (b) they are in constant danger of being tied up by strikes, without an available supply of labor to draw upon; and (c) they are at a disadvantage as compared with other localities by reason of the inefficiency of the unskilled labor which is available.
Because of the labor situation, which is an outgrowth of the industrial expansion of the district, a change in the labor supply has already taken place to the following extent:
(1) English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh miners and steel workers, to some extent skilled, have come into the district of their own accord, as shown by statistics in another section of this report.
(2) The larger employers have brought in Italians, Greeks, Macedonians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, and representatives of other southern European races during the past ten years for use as unskilled laborers in the steel plants and the mines.
(3) The net gain to the labor supply by the coming of these immigrants has been the settling of the Scotch, Irish, Welsh, and English, and to a small extent of Slovaks, Greeks, and Italians. To this net gain may be added those who have come of their own accord because friends and relatives preceded them to this locality. In proportion to the total number of employees, however, the number of immigrants is insignificant, and they have really done very little toward solving the question of a settled labor supply. The immigrants who have already come do not show a tendency to stay, and the difficulty experienced in securing enough of them to form large communities, which would serve to draw others of the various races in those communities has so far been well-nigh insurmountable. In brief, therefore, a survey of the industrial history of the district brings the present situation down to a statement which may be expressed as follows: The rapid industrial expansion of Birmingham as an iron and steel center has far outgrown the labor supply. According to the
larger and newer operators of mines and plants, immigration of some nature must be brought about in order to allow the Birmingham district to retain what natural advantages it possesses in the production of iron and steel and other products.
OBSTACLES AND INDUCEMENTS TO IMMIGRATION.
From an economic standpoint, and aside from other consideration from the point of view of the immigrant, the greatest inducement offered to immigrants is the demand for labor on the part of the newer and larger coal, iron, and steel industries in the district. This is evident from the standpoint of the employer, as shown in a preceding section of this report. As compared with iron and steel centers in other sections of the United States, the climate in the Birmingham district presents a second inducement. On account of the lack of congested conditions and probably superior housing, a third inducement exists over other centers.
Obstacles may be summarized in the following manner:
(1) The lack of established community life among the various races, particularly in the case of southern and eastern European races. (2) The long distance from the chief ports of immigration.
(3) Prejudice against the immigrant on the part of negroes and native whites. There seems to be a natural prejudice against Italians, as expressed in the term "dagoes," and against other southern European immigrants, as expressed in the term "hunkies," which has been accentuated on the part of native employees on account of the use of immigrants of this class as strike breakers. The same natural prejudice appears in the attitude of the employers, who, with few exceptions, adopt a contemptuous attitude toward immigrants from southern Europe and regard them as desirable only from the standpoint of the lack of an alternative as a solution of the problem of labor scarcity. Employers, too, other things being considered equal, have stated that they prefer negroes to immigrants of this class, because they are better patrons of the commissaries, and in this manner practically receive lower wages.
(4) Slightly lower wages offered in the Birmingham district as compared by occupations with other coal and steel centers of the country.
The obstacles appear to have outweighed the inducements in the past. Immigrants who have been brought into the Birmingham district from New York as they landed or from communities in other States have been brought in only by special inducements, such as free transportation, during the periods of the greatest demand. They have not settled to any considerable extent, except in the case of the Scotch, English, Irish, and Welsh, who came of their own accord years ago, and except a community of Slovaks who have settled because members of this race were present in numbers large enough to establish a community. Finally, the greatest obstacle to immigration into this section should be noted as the general tendency on the part of immigrants, for whatever purpose, to go elsewhere in the United States. The flow of immigration has not been toward the South, and Birmingham employers believe that immigration into their district will not become natural until the immigration movement, in a national sense, is turned toward the South.