Lapas attēli

Of 1,186 males in the households studied in this community from whom information was obtained, only 26, or 2.2 per cent, were affili– ated with trade unions, the foreign-born reporting 25, or 2.4 per cent of their number, while the native-born report less than 1 per cent. It is especially interesting to note the large proportion of Slovaks with union affiliations as compared with the other races, the Slovaks reporting 27.6 per cent, while the proportions of the Poles, Scotch, North Italians, French, Greeks, and South Italians, in the order named, range from 5.4 to 0.2 per cent. These comparisons indicate, it would seem, that the employees of the iron and steel industry with union affiliations in this locality are such as were members of unions in localities in which they were previously employed and in which there existed a stronger organization of labor.


Labor disputes, strikes, and all conditions resulting from differences regarding wages and conditions of employment, have been a comparatively slight element in determining the character of working conditions in the Birmingham district for three reasons:

First. All strikes have failed.

Second. The presence of so large a proportion of negroes has to a large extent prevented thorough unionizing of employees. Labor organization, therefore, outside of actual strikes has had little effect upon conditions of employment.

Third. While immigrants have been imported into the district as strike breakers, a very small proportion of immigrants brought in for this purpose have become permanent residents. Labor disputes have, as a result, had little effect upon the racial composition of employees. These conclusions will, it is believed, be evident in a rapid survey of the history of labor disputes in the Birmingham district.

The first strike in the Birmingham district to affect in any way the immigrant employees was the coal miners' strike of 1904. There was a strike in the coal mines in 1894, but as it was in the early days of the industry in the district, it was of small consequence in its effects, and occurred before the immigration of foreign-born miners or other laborers had begun to any appreciable extent. The 1904 strike, however, bore a relation to immigrant labor because immigrants were brought in to a small extent as strike breakers. A number of Slovaks, some Poles, and a mixture of other races, so far as can be determined at this date, were brought in. In only a few instances have any of these strike breakers remained in the district, the largest Slovak community being the most notable example of permanent immigration as the result of this strike. Practically all other immigrants of this period scattered to other sections of the United States as fast as the striking employees returned to work.

The proximate cause of the 1904 strike of the coal miners was a determination on the part of the operators to institute certain changes in wages, hours of work, and time of wage payments. Theretofore the operators had based the rate of pay upon a sliding scale which operated in conformity to the price of pig iron. The minimum rate prior to the action of the operators was 474 cents a ton for pick-mined coal when iron was selling at $8 a ton. They now proposed to reduce the minimum to 40 cents a ton when iron was selling at $8.50 a ton,

45 cents a ton for coal when iron was selling at $9.50 per ton, and a maximum of 55 cents a ton for coal when iron was selling as high as $13 per ton or over. They also proposed to do away with semimonthly pay days and institute monthly pay days instead, and to require a nine-hour work day. These changes meant an hour longer working day, and a reduction of 10 cents per ton for the minimum for pick-mined coal and 7 cents a ton for the maximum. Another change proposed was the payment of "outside men" by the hour instead of by the day.

Thirty-one smaller companies, having signed a temporary agreement with the miners, were not directly concerned in the strike.

The United Mine Workers of America met the proposition of the operators by demanding a contract for two years, the eight-hour day, the semimonthly pay day, the contract of the previous year with regard to rates of remuneration to be continued, and a few changes in different classes of employees. In a statement quoted in the local press at the time, a member of the national board of the United Mine Workers stated that for the past ten years the miners had generally met and formulated some scale which they presented to the operators, and that the operators prepared a scale which they in turn presented to the miners. Two weeks, or even less, he said, had been sufficient for the operators and the miners to come to some agreement. In 1904, however, he stated that when the operators had refused to meet the miners on any terms, and dissolved the operators' association, the miners offered to submit to arbitration, which offer was refused. This statement in its detailed showing of the facts appears to have been correct, but the truth was that the operators had made up their minds to refuse to recognize the union in any way. The operators' association, which had existed largely as a formal method of discussing the wage scale and other matters with the union, was therefore dissolved, and the furnace operators, all of whom also operated mines, decided to stand on their own grounds after a general decision was made.

The strike was accordingly called on July 26, 1904, by the United Mine Workers of the Alabama district. It affected about 8,000 men, which included practically all of the miners in the State, with the exception of about 500 men in the commercial companies which had temporary agreements.

The first few months of the strike constituted the really critical period. During that time many instances of lawlessness and disorder and violence occurred. The strikers, especially the white miners of native origin, were supported by the union, but the negroes. left the district in large numbers for other States. After the first few weeks many of the strikers, especially the negroes, violated their agreement with the union and returned to work, and the operators allowed all strikers, except those who were strike leaders or who had been guilty of violence to return under the terms of their original proposition. Practically all of the remaining commercial companies, for the most part very small operators, soon signed agreements with the union, and left only the larger operators, who were also furnace operators, in the fight against the union. As soon as it was definitely decided that neither side would yield, the operators brought in Magyars, Slovaks, Greeks, Servians, Italians, and Finns, as well as

native whites, as strike breakers as fast as they could secure them. These immigrants were used largely to take the place of negro labor, both in the mines and in the tipples, and while brought in by only one company largely, many of them spread to other operators. The immigrants were largely direct from Ellis Island, and were found to be very unsatisfactory except for the most unskilled labor. Other laborers and miners were brought in from the mining districts of West Virginia, and the mill districts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore. The latter who were native whites, were used to take the place of the native whites who had gone out.

It is difficult to ascertain just how many men belonging to the union were on strike at any given time, The report of the secretarytreasurer of the union on April 30, 1905, stated that on August 12, 1904, there were 9,122 men on strike, but at the time the report was made the union had on its membership rolls only 3,624. Operators state that thousands of union men came back to work, while the union reports indicate that many of the strikers left the district to seek work elsewhere. Both statements are probably true, and the fact is that after the first few months, many of the immigrant laborers as well as imported native white laborers went away from the district as local negroes and native whites returned to work. At the end of two years comparatively few either immigrant or imported white laborers were present; the operators were dictating their own scale of wages, the union had not been recognized, and things had settled down to their normal condition.

The union organization found itself in a badly disorganized condition, and as the price of pig iron went up in January, 1905, the wages of the pick miners were raised by the company to 57 cents a ton, which was the maximum-a fact which made the continuance of the strike on the part of the union very difficult. This advance in wages, as based on the price of pig iron, had started as early as October, and soon after that time all deputies for the preservation of order were found unnecessary.

About the time of the coal-miners strike of 1904, there was a strike of furnace men in the blast furnaces and steel mills, but it was not a sympathetic movement. In fact it started earlier, its very inception being as early as October, 1903, but it was declared on March 16, 1904. The reduction of wages of the open-hearth men from $3.40 a day and 6 cents a ton before the closing of the mills in the fall of 1903 to a fixed wage of $3 a day and no tonnage was the cause of the strike. The men demanded $3 a day, with 4 cents a ton additional. The strike caused a cessation of work in all of the departments at Ensley for about two weeks, and involved about 60 furnace men. Concessions were made by both sides and work was resumed on April 1. No immigrants were involved, and the strike did not assume proportions large enough to necessitate the calling in of skilled or unskilled men from other sections. No union was involved, as the furnace men were not affiliated with any labor organization.

One result of this first period of labor dispute in the Birmingham district, so far as immigrant labor was concerned, was that a few foreign-born unskilled laborers were left in the district. A considerable number of them had, during the whole period of the dispute, been brought in; but the large majority of them scattered to other sections of the United States as fast as the old men deserted the union,

or as fast as native-born laborers could be secured from outside of the district. None of the Finns, Magyars, Servians, and few of the Italians remained. The Greeks entered into other lines of occupation, notably mercantile pursuits, and a considerable proportion, so far as can be determined, of the Slovaks stayed. The remaining Slovaks constitute practically the only colony of that race in the district.

A second result was the prejudice against the immigrant on account of his being used on this occasion as a strike breaker. Even those natives who had deserted the union and had been given the right to displace immigrants when they returned to work still entertained a dislike for the southern European immigrant for this reason. The years from the end of the 1904 strike, which practically took place in 1905, although the dispute on the part of the union was continued for two years, until 1908, were a period of peace in the labor circles of the district. In the interim the agents of the United Mine Workers continued their efforts to perfect a stronger organization, and by 1908 they considered themselves strong enough to settle the question of "open" or "union" shop. On July 1, 1908, they claimed that the union possessed about 4,000 members, and the sentiment of other miners, native white, negro, and foreign-born, had been carefully tested.

The chance to test the strength of the union came in July, 1908, when the operators announced that owing to the depression in the coal and coke industry, it was necessary to either close down for a time or reduce wages by something like 20 per cent. They stated that they had determined to choose the latter alternative and try it as long as they could. The union replied with a demand for wages that at least were no lower than the scale prior to that time; for the abolition of certain "abuses" and "impositions," such as short weights, etc.; and the recognition of the union and the operation of the mines upon the "union-shop" principle. There is no doubt that the question of union recognition and union shop were the real issues, and the operators refused to grant any of the demands, either of the men individually or of the union organization. On July 6, 1908, a general strike was ordered in the district by the United Mine Workers, and practically every miner walked out. Unlike the strike of 1904, nearly every commercial operator joined in with the larger operators who mined coal for furnace and mill use, and declared for the principle of open shop. Only four small commercial companies signed a wage-scale agreement as demanded by the union, the remaining 25 operators of all kinds refused to recognize the union.

As nearly 8,000 more men than were actually enrolled in the membership of the union walked out, the union felt that it was strong enough to win. Owing to the industrial depression, the operators at this time could afford to lose time. In fact many of them welcomed the opportunity. A few of them who operated furnaces and mills were handicapped because of the delay caused in the carrying out of orders, and attempted to start up three days later with a small crew, and at once began the work of importing miners from other States and immigrants from other coal fields and New York.

On the other hand, the immigrant miners who were in the employ of the operators at the time the strike was called, responded to the call of the union. As shown in another section of this report a con

siderable number of them had been imported in 1906 and 1907. The operators furthermore announced that no reinstatements would be allowed as long as the strike existed. The issue was much more clearly drawn in this strike than in the preceding one, and the feeling of antagonism ran much higher.

As soon as the strike breakers began to arrive, scenes of violence occurred. Several persons were killed during the attacks of union miners or strike sympathizers upon the strike breakers, and it became necessary, in the opinon of the state governor, to call in the militia and take decisive measures. So frequent were the disorders that public opinion, as reflected by the local press, began to urge that measures of a conciliatory nature be taken to stop the strike, and expressions directly advocating concessions to the miners' demands began to be heard. These instances of violence occurred from time to time all during July, until on August 9 a signally lawless attack was made upon a train full of deputies and imported strike breakers. Unknown parties stopped the train by laying ties across the track, and the attacking party of 50 or more fired into the crowded coaches, killing three men and severely wounding many others. This was the boldest assault that had taken place during the strike, and it aroused the governor of the State to issue a call to the state militia to be in readiness to respond at a moment's notice. Furthermore, he threatened to call the legislature in extra session to take drastic measures if the strike was not terminated by 10 o'clock on August 31, and threatened to destroy the tents of all idle miners. As the companies had ejected all striking miners from the company quarters when the walkout began, the destruction of the tents would have meant that thousands of striking miners would be left without shelter.

By this time, however, the union had lost much strength. It was found difficult to hold negro strikers and to control them as well as immigrant strikers from attempting acts of violence. The native white miners, for the most part, had refrained from any violence and discountenanced the work of the negroes and the immigrants, and internal dissension had set in. The strike had cost the union between $50,000 and $100,000 a week, and the funds of the organization were getting low, as receipts were dwindling and the surplus had vanished. The decided stand of the state executive regarding the calling off of the strike enabled the operators to win, as all they had to do was to wait until the last day had expired and to rely on the effect of public disapproval of the lawlessness of the striking miners. As a result, a statement was issued by the officers of the United Mine Workers of America, calling the strike off on September 1, "recognizing," as the statement ran, "the futility of running in opposition to the State," and "bowing in submission to the mandate of the State." As fast as there was need of them, the striking miners, except those who had been leaders or who had been convicted of lawlessness, were taken back by the operators, and the policy of the open shop was established. During the strike considerable numbers of immigrants were brought in as strike breakers, but in not so great a proportion as native whites from other coal-mining sections.

Comparatively few of these imported miners remained in the district. In fact many of them left very soon after they came, it being alleged that the union paid their expenses back to their homes or to other points where they wished to go. The immigrant population

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