Steel: The Diary of a Furnace-Worker

This book is an astonishing recital. Reading it practically at one sitting, I had two emotions on laying it down. First, one is distinctly grateful to the author for a delicate and restrained — although detailed — pictureof his comings and goings during the long hours. If there is a chamber of horrors, it is not of Mr. Walker’s making. I found I was quite enjoying myself in the company of the stalwart crew to which he belonged. The book is like a deftly drawn picture of an operating-room, recorded through the work and the gossip and sometimes the play of the doctors and nurses — and patients. Again the reader closes the book in sheer amazement at the continuity and persistence of human institutions - of the power of what is to carry on, and of the inert resistance of us all to the development of what might be. Every nation in the world except the United States has abandoned the twoshift day, working as it does an average twelvehour day, with fourteen hours when on the night shift and a twenty-four-hour turn every two weeks. Even here in the United States practically every industry except steel has found it advantageous to go to the three-shift system, making possible an eightor a ten-hour day.
We are finally discovering that there is no logical answer as to why the United States Steel Corporation continues the long day, except that as an institution this way stands high among the mores of the industry. Even a layman can see that it is a demoralizing influence in Company morale. The engineers have shown that getting away from it may actually mean a money saving or at worst a negligible loss.
Mr. Walker’s story shows how traditional methods and thumb-rule find a fertile soil in long hours. The gigantic mechanical devices only emphasize the archaic and planless scheme for utilizing the man-power. No one gains anything under such methods. On almost every page we are confronted with seemingly unnecessary danger and distressing antagonisms. I served my apprenticeship in a shipyard among discomforts, some of them unnecessarily cruel, and hazards frequently fatal. But those were pink-tea days in comparison with Mr. Walker’s. Burns on his clothing and even his body were the routine accomplishments of certain classes of work. The Steel Corporation properly prides itself on its safety work. It has been monumental. One feels on reading Steel, however, that machinery must be gaining on man. It is not a question of how much you do but of how completely you cope with the emergency. Mr. Walker encountered very little real leadership — even of the two-fisted kind. The atmosphere was of men driven rather than led. Foremen of the right sort are not to be had for twelvehour shifts.
The long day in steel has no basis in reason. It is with us simply because human institutions persist. It will continue until some individual within the industry, or public opinion from without, calls a halt. A number of the smaller manufacturers of steel, including Henry Ford, have shown the way. Such a book as Mr. Walker’s serves to show clearly the need of following it.