The Cio Turns a Page


IT has for more than a year been obvious that the future of the CIO depended for its success upon the organization of steel workers.

In July 1936, the American Iron and Steel Institute issued an advertisement, speaking for all the producing steel companies, in which the policy was set forth that ‘no employee in the steel industry has to join any organization to get or hold a job.’ This was a direct challenge to the CIO, which was then beginning to organize the CIO in steel.

At the time that this advertisement was published, it represented the policy of the principal steel companies; otherwise it could not have been issued through the Institute. At that moment the CIO was little understood; John Lewis, although long a factor in coal, had never heretofore been a leader among steel workers. The old ‘Amalgamated,’ the A. F. of L. steel unit, was moribund and its leaders quiescent. Steel producers believed that their employee representation plans and socalled ‘ company unions’ would withstand CIO attacks. The industry was pushing up to normal production. Wages were reaching 1929 levels, and it was obvious that they would go higher. Man power was in the 1929 bracket and there was talk of a shortage of skilled labor. Certain social improvements had been made and others were being planned — such as time and a half for overtime, vacations with pay, and so forth.

This situation was completely altered on March 2, 1937, when a contract was signed between Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee on behalf of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers of North America. (For purposes of ready reference, this body will be termed the CIO.) CarnegieIllinois is the principal subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation. March 2 was a Tuesday. The other principal steel companies did not know that such an agreement was to be signed until the preceding Friday.

Much has been written about the origin of this agreement — much that is rumor, hearsay, and propagandistic gibberish. I am not going to add anything to that. What is important from the standpoint of this article is its effect upon the steel industry.

It must be understood that in steel, a highly competitive industry, the following are the principal companies from the standpoint of capitalization, volume of production, and number of men employed: United States Steel Corporation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Republic Steel Corporation, Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, National Steel Corporation, Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, Inland Steel Corporation, the American Rolling Mill Company, Wheeling Steel Corporation, and Crucible Steel Company of America.

If the analysis is made from the standpoint of ingot production, these ten companies produce somewhat more than 80 per cent of the ingot produced in the United States. The United States Steel Corporation alone (in 1936) probably produced about 35 per cent, the other companies producing close to 50 per cent.

It is important to realize that Republic, National, and Inland forged ahead during the depression years and that at least one of these companies earned a profit every year of the depression when other companies were suffering great losses. Whereas up to the depression the leadership of the United States Steel Corporation in setting steel policy for the entire industry was rarely, if ever, questioned, during recent years there has been no such thing as ‘steel policy,’ each company acting for itself.

All this must be known and understood if the recent (and perhaps, when this is printed, present) strike is to be understood. It is a fallacy, in my opinion, to speak of the ‘independents’ in the steel industry: that word belonged to another period. Now we face a number of steel producers who speak for themselves — Myron C. Taylor, Eugene Grace, Tom Girdler, E. T. Weir, Frank Purnell, the Block brothers, H. E. Lewis, and Charles R. Hook. No one speaks for the other. When they speak as one voice, it is because they have agreed in advance to speak as one voice.

After the signing of the Carnegielllinois contract with the CIO, a veritable babel of voices was heard in the steel industry. Some said that they would sign similar agreements; others said that they would not. A number of the smaller companies signed with the CIO, but of the nine companies listed above not one signed until the spring steel strikes. Then Jones and Laughlin signed an agreement identical with the Carnegie-lllinois after a short strike and after a vote was taken among the Jones and Laughlin workers. Wheeling and Crucible also signed such an agreement. The remaining six did not sign.

Although these six companies continued to function independently of each other, because of circumstances arising from the strikes Tom Girdler of Republic was accepted by the public as spokesman for the group. It must be noted, however, that Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Inland, and Bethlehem each issued statements independent of Girdler. National and American Rolling Mill were not involved in the strike situation.


The strikes in steel were unusual in that the issue did not involve wages, hours of work, or working conditions. Only one issue was at stake, the signing of an agreement, similar to the Carnegielllinois agreement with the CIO. That agreement does not provide for wages, hours, or working conditions different from or superior to those existing in the struck companies at the moment of the strike. This fact simplified the situation, for the only question was whether a contract would be signed with one particular organization, the CIO — with or without the consent of the men.

The CIO contended that it represented the majority of the workers in the steel industry, that under the Wagner Act it therefore represented the workers, and that it was not logical for the employers to refuse to sign an agreement with the men’s representatives.

The employers’ view is this: —

1. That the CIO does not represent the men, and there is no evidence that it does;

2. That the men want to work and, wherever given the opportunity, have continued to work even under the most adverse conditions;

3. That the CIO is an irresponsible body made up of all sorts of irresponsible elements, and that it does not live up to its contracts (for instance, there have been two hundred strikes in the fortyeight General Motors plants subsequent to the signing of an agreement between General Motors and the CIO);

4. That the Wagner Act calls for collective bargaining but not for a signed agreement, that Senator Wagner in explaining the Act prior to these strikes interpreted his own measure as not requiring a signed agreement, and that the Supreme Court in the Wagner Act decisions specifically held that the Act did not provide for signed agreements;

5. That the CIO had not had any part in determining the wage rates, hours, or other working conditions, and therefore had no basis for asking for any agreement relating thereto.

And there the issue has remained. Millions of dollars have been lost, men have been killed and wounded, much politics has been played. But the issue remains unchanged. I shall quote here from Tom Girdler’s testimony before the Senate Post Office Committee to indicate the ‘atmosphere’ of this issue:

Why I would have to determine it [the responsibility of a party to a contract] by some method. If I bought scrap from a scrap dealer who wanted a contract to furnish me scrap over a period of six months and he was an irresponsible party, I would not enter into a contract with him. If he was a responsible party, I might enter into a contract, and we do that every day. There have to be two parties to a contract, you know.


A red herring was thrown into the public discussion of the steel situation. Yet President Roosevelt, Miss Perkins, such writers as General Hugh Johnson and, I believe, Walter Lippmann, and most of the public swallowed it as the truth. And for some unaccountable reason no one from the steel companies took the trouble to deny it until Mr. Girdler appeared on the stand before the Senate Committee.

The CIO apparently spread the tale that the steel producers had come to an oral agreement with them but refused to confirm it by a signed written agreement. This was never true.

Tom Girdler testified as follows: —

Senator Bridges: ‘Mr. Girdler, I have listened to your testimony here, and I believe that Mr. Murray in testifying before this Committee, and I also believe that Senator Guffey in answer to a question addressed to him by Senator Borah on the floor of the Senate, stated that the issue involved here was only a question of reducing a verbal contract to a written contract. Do I understand correctly from your statement that is not a fact?’

Mr. Girdler: ‘Mr. Murray is a liar, to the best of my knowledge and belief, and he always has been, and Senator Guffey does not know what he is talking about.’

Senator Bailey: ‘I will say for Mr. Murray he said that was not an oral contract . . .’

Mr. Girdler: ‘I understood the statement from the Chairman was that Mr. Murray said there was an oral agreement.’

Senator Bailey: ‘His final testimony was there was not an oral agreement, merely an expression of willingness.’

I have checked this question personally and find that there was no oral agreement between any of these companies and the CIO at any time. Therefore there never was an issue of putting an oral agreement into writing and signing the document. That issue did not exist.


All the steel employers say that they believe in collective bargaining. They say that since the Supreme Court has spoken they adhere to the Wagner Act. They admit that if the National Labor Relations Board held an election in their plant, and if a majority of the workers favored the CIO, they would have to recognize the CIO as representing all the workers.

Why, then, the opposition to the signed agreement?

The clue is to be found, not in the various statements made on both sides and by public men, but in the CarnegieIllinois contract and subsequent agreements with other companies. That contract contains the clause: ‘The agreement effectuated pursuant to Section 4 hereof shall be in force until February 28, 1938.’

The supplementary agreement, signed on March 17, contains the same clause in simpler language: ‘This agreement shall remain in full force and effect until February 28, 1938 inclusive.’

On March 17, 1937, an agreement was signed between the Vilter Manufacturing Company and the CIO and it terminates on the same date. So far as is known, every agreement signed between a steel company and the CIO terminates on February 28, 1938. Steel producers say that when the CIO makes an agreement identical with the Carnegie-Illinois, what it aims at is that date, February 28, 1938.

Now it has appeared to many steel men and their advisers that John L. Lewis is seeking to produce in steel a condition that already exists in coal — namely, that on a certain day all agreements would lapse and a general strike in the entire industry would be called unless the agreements would be renewed on his terms. Conditions during a general strike are very different from those which obtain in only a few plants, and the country is being supplied with the product from those plants which are not on strike. They believe that the date might give Mr. Lewis a whip hand year after year.

Furthermore, as it is now, each company speaks for itself. Obviously, if all agreements terminate on one day, it would be physically impossible for Mr. Lewis and Philip Murray to sit down with perhaps 150 or more companies to negotiate separate agreements. The tendency would be in the direction of one over-all agreement to cover the entire industry, big companies and small, favored companies and companies against which the CIO would be prejudiced.

Furthermore, these steel men regard the present Carnegie-Illinois and similar agreements as preliminary. The basic Steel-CIO agreement is still to be signed — namely, on February 28, 1938. And that agreement, they believe, will include provisions for the closed shop and the checkoff. The Carnegic-Illinois agreement contains neither. The final agreement says in Section 2: —

The corporation recognizes the union as the collective bargaining agency for those employes of the corporation who are members of the union. The corporation recognizes and will not interfere with the right of its employes to become members of the union. There shall be no discrimination, interference, restraint or coercion by the corporation or any of its agents against any members because of membership in the union. The union agrees not to intimidate or coerce employes into membership and also not to solicit membership on corporation time or plant property.

That is not a closed-shop agreement. It paves the way for an elimination of the CIO if its membership in that company is reduced. It makes it possible for the company to negotiate with anyone else, with any other organization of workers or even with individual employees. From the standpoint of the CIO, it is sound to withdraw that section and in its stead to substitute an exclusive representation clause which would make the CIO the sole agency for collective bargaining.

That would mean that every man and woman employed by a steel company, including the office and transportation staffs, would have to be members of the CTO and pay dues to it before they would be allowed to work. The right of a man or woman to work in steel would be determined by the CIO, which would enjoy the monopoly of supplying labor to steel on the CIO’s terms.

And the steel men fear that one of those terms would be the checkoff, and with reason, since some of the agreements with the smaller steel companies include the checkoff. The coal agreements include the checkoff. John Lewis rebuilt the United Mine Workers on the basis of the checkoff.

There are approximately (more rather than less) 500,000 workers in the steel industry. At $12 a year, not counting initiation fees and special assessments, that would give John Lewis’s CIO $6,000,000 a year out of the steel industry. I do not know this to be fact, but I have it on good authority that since the CIO came into existence miners have paid dues and special assessments of $20, making a total of something like $7,000,000.

These funds during the past year, whatever their dimensions, have been employed to make strikes in industries other than coal — in automobiles, steel, rubber, and so forth. In fact, funds collected by steel companies from their own coal miners and paid to John Lewis under the checkoff, according to coalmine agreements, have been used by Lewis to organize strikes in the steel industry. The steel masters thus found themselves in the anomalous position of collecting funds for their own destruction.

The checkoff is a tacit admission by the union that if the employer did not take the union dues out of the worker’s pay envelope he would not pay his dues. Most of the old-line craft unions did not employ the checkoff, particularly those unions which adhere to Sam Gompers’s conception of the trade-union as a voluntary organization. The checkoff at best is an instrument of compulsion in a closed-shop industry; at worst, it leads to a form of racketeering as reprehensible as that exposed by the Dewey investigation in New York.

The curious operation of the checkoff is to be noted in the following episode. The president of the Goodrich union called a strike for July 6, 1937, because members of his union failed to pay their dues. When he found that Akron was solidly opposed to his method of collecting dues, he announced that he would get his dues in some other way and denounced the company for rejecting the checkoff. He said that the company and the union were in agreement on all other points, but that he insisted upon the checkoff. In a word, knowing by experience that his members would not pay their dues, he sought to use the company as an agency of compulsion.

Most steel employers refuse to place themselves in that position. And the companies which risked strikes rather than sign an agreement did so on the assumption that this question of the closed shop and the checkoff would come up on February 28, 1938, and would have to be fought over then. They believed that it was sounder to fight now — even when the issues were hidden, but hidden only from the general public. The workers apparently knew what was at stake, and in preponderant numbers remained at work, when they were allowed to work.


The tactics employed by the CIO in the steel strike were similar to those employed in the automobile strike, but the sit-down and the sit-in were abandoned altogether.

No strike vote was taken. No referendum was submitted to the employees by the union, not even to their own members. The principal organizers were miners, assisted by automobile and rubber organizers and by tailors, milliners, and students. Not a single outstanding personality in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee is employed in the steel industry.

Picket lines were formed around the plants and the workers were not permitted to enter. In Monroe, Johnstown, and other places, workers tried to fight their way into plants. In Johnstown and Youngstown citizens’ committees were organized to keep the ‘outsiders’ from destroying the economic life of their cities. The threat of a mass meeting of 40,000 miners called to prevent steel workers from working in a plant that was in full operation resulted in the closing of the plant by Governor Earle, who recognized the right of men to hold a mass meeting but not the right of men to work.

The mobility of pickets was an interesting factor. Strikebreakers may no longer be imported from state to state, but pickets found their way into Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania from all over the country. Senator Rush Holt reported to the Senate Post Office Committee that such persons went into strike areas from West Virginia. Often when men were arrested they were found to be from states some distance from the scene of action.

The automobile industry is concentrated principally in Michigan, but steel plants are scattered all over the country. Republic, for instance, operates in something like a dozen states. To picket plants under such circumstances requires the organization of a mobile force that becomes a veritable army. The miners provided the nucleus of this force, and the checkoff in operation in the coal-mining industry provided ample funds to pay these miners for their services.

But the miners have another motive. They are being taxed to pay for the steel strike. Once this industry is organized, they may be relieved of the heavy burden of providing a strike fund. When I was in Steubenville some time ago, I heard this story: a steel worker was told by a relative, a coal miner, that he wished they’d get busy and sign up because he was damn tired of being assessed for strike funds to organize steel.

Well, that coal miner will have to go on paying, because under the closedshop-checkoff system in vogue in the coal industry he has no alternative if he wants to work.

As was the case with the Haymarket and Homestead strikes of long ago, it wall probably never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction who started the riots in Chicago in connection with the present strikes. But violence in Monroe, Niles, Canton, Youngstown, and Johnstown may be placed definitely at the door of the CIO.

One leader is under bail for dynamiting; the water connections of the Cambria plant were blown up; railroad tracks were blown up in Youngstown, and so forth. These facts have been established, arrests have been made, and public opinion turned on the CTO because of such violence.

But the restriction of the mails, which led to a senatorial investigation and the issuance of warrants for the arrest of six persons, created a situation that probably did more harm to the CIO than anything the steel masters did against the organization. It was difficult even for CIO sympathizers to swallow the fact of the control of even a local post office by a CIO committee. The definition which the Post Office Department sought to make of what constituted regular and irregular mail only served to place its officials in a ridiculous position.

The mails have, in this country, become sacrosanct. When a Senate Committee seized telegrams, there was a protest, but not of howling dimensions. When we hear of telephone wires being tapped, we do not like it, but we do nothing about it. The mails are different. They represent in the public mind the ultimate of individual privacy and the supreme test of the responsibility of government. When tire government fails to deliver the mails because a committee representing strikers objects, the public loses respect for government. The response in Congress, in the press, and everywhere indicated that the mails must not be touched, not even by the CIO.

Another form of violence employed in this strike was the attempt on the part of the United Mine Workers to deprive the steel companies of coal. This incident led to unexpected consequences, because it made it possible for the steel companies to say that John Lewis’s signature at the end of an agreement was worthless.

The facts are these: On April 12, 1937, an agreement was signed between coalmine operators and John Lewis and Philip Murray, officers of the United Mine Workers of America, in which appeared the clause: ‘The Operators shall at all times be at liberty to load coal into any transportation equipment whatsoever, regardless of ownership, and to sell and deliver coal loaded into such equipment in any market and to any person, firm, or corporation.’

The Agreement also provided: ‘A strike or stoppage of work on the part of the Mine Workers shall be a violation of this Agreement.’ Yet on June 14, 1937, John Lewis notified D. C. Kennedy, Chairman of the Coal Operators Negotiating Committee, as follows: —

The U. M. W. A. in order to protect the collective bargaining rights has withdrawn its membership from the production of coal in the captive mining properties owned by Bethlehem Steel Company, Republic Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company. In the event these steel companies undertake to transfer the production of their coal tonnage from captive to commercial operations the U. M. W. A. reserves the right to withdraw its membership from coal production on such properties. Please officially advise operating groups in the Appalachian area of this policy.

The question arose here whether a contract is a contract, and what is the responsibility of one of the contracting parties when he breaks the contract. It would seem that in taking this action John Lewis played directly into the hands of the steel men, who based their refusal to sign on the ground that the CIO was an irresponsible body. In the attempted general strike at Warren, the same tendency to break contracts was clear, and two firms which had contracts with the CIO containing ‘no strike’ clauses apparently accepted the general strike as nullifying their contracts.

This same characteristic of dealing lightly with contracts is evident in the breaches in the automobile industry. Not only is the entire picture one of irresponsibility, but the impression seems to be justified that those CIO leaders who sign contracts are unable or unwilling to enforce them at all times.


In this strike the CIO had the full support of the Administration until after Tom Girdler’s testimony before the Senate Committee. Then the President fell back upon Mercutio for an ambiguous quotation. Not only did Miss Perkins seek to influence employers to sign an agreement with the CIO, but Governor Davey of Ohio accused her of instructing him to hold Tom Girdler and Frank Purnell until they signed. It was apparently this gentle effort of Madame the Secretary of Labor which turned Governor Davey away from the Administration and the CIO.

The steel companies at first faced the antagonism of Governors Earle of Pennsylvania, Davey of Ohio, Murphy of Michigan, and Townsend of Indiana — all New Dealers. Governor Davey finally so policed the plants in his state that they opened without any settlement of any nature. Governor Murphy has had a law passed in Michigan which the Left Wing of the CIO attacks as Fascistic. Governor Earle has advised the CIO to forgo violence and to purge itself of Communist elements. Governor Towmsend has announced a settlement of the Inland and Youngstown strikes at Indiana Harbor which is no settlement at all and which may have saved someone’s face, but whose is not clear at the moment of writing. The attitude of these companies is apparently no different from that of the other companies, and the definite accusation has been made that Governor Townsend has been careless as to the truth.

The La Follette Committee has been engaged in discovering through motion pictures who was responsible for the Chicago riots, but the principal Senate activity was with the Post Office Committee, which stole the front page from Senator La Follette in most newspapers.

A further activity of the Federal Government was the appointment of a Board of Mediators — without power or authority. This body, which consisted of Charles P. Taft II, Chairman, Lloyd K. Garrison, and Edward F. McGrady, who was brought back from Europe to serve, was authorized: —

(a) To investigate issues, disputes, facts, practices, and activities of employers and employees that are burdening or obstructing, or threatening to burden or obstruct the free flow of interstate commerce; (b) to conduct hearings, take testimony under oath, and to make findings of fact and recommendations for settlement; (c) to act as voluntary arbitrator on request of the parties to the dispute and render awards with respect to the subject matter of such disputes as are submitted to it as shall be binding upon the parties to the submission.

The Board ignored a and b of its commission, and without request from the steel makers immediately started to operate as arbitrators. Undoubtedly this made for failure. But the Board was already handicapped, first by the fact that it was without real authority, secondly by the fact that both President Roosevelt and Miss Perkins had declared themselves in favor of a signed agreement, — the only issue at stake, — and thirdly because two of the three members had spoken their minds in advance. I quote from House Resolution No. 248: —

(b) Whether a book written by the said Charles P. Taft II, contained the statement that ‘fuel is added to the flames by the silly refusal of employers to put such agreements as they may reach in writing.’

(c) Whether Lloyd K. Garrison made the statement: ‘The establishment of satisfactory relations between labor and management depends upon the frank acceptance of collective bargaining and the reduction of these agreements to writing.’

(d) Whether, Edward F. McGrady, of the Labor Department, being a member of the Mediation Board, it is the policy of the Labor Department to close factories where the employer refuses to sign a written contract and a labor organization threatens to either close the factory or make demonstration in force against the workers who remain within.

The Board met in Cleveland and nothing happened. Mr. Lewis and his men said, ‘They must sign.’ Messrs. Girdler, Purnell, Grace, and Block said, ‘We will not sign.’ So the Board quit and Mr. Taft sailed for Europe.

An arbitration board consisting of a steel man, a labor leader, and a representative consumer might have accomplished much. But a board consisting of a New Deal Republican and two full New Dealers, both of whom had been responsible for the development of the New Deal labor policy, was bound to fail.

This entire procedure was a misreading of the situation, a lack of understanding of the attitudes of either side of the conflict and a complete failure to appraise the psychological factors involved.


The sum total of this strike is that it has accomplished nothing. It has in no way settled the issue as to whether an employer must or must not sign a contract. It has not clarified the process of collective bargaining. It has not made for better relations between the employer and the employee; on the contrary, it has left a wake of hatred between those who struck and those who refused to strike.

Only one thing is clear — namely, that the Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Board are useless instruments in the field of labor relations. In every crucial situation both have failed. The Administration ignored the Wagner Act, and, instead of using the National Labor Relations Board, it appointed the Mediation Board; instead of employing that law, it took a roundabout method to put the government into the matter. At the last moment, when the strike was over because the men were going back to work, the National Labor Relations Board intervened with an action against Inland and Republic, but that will only lead to further court action, in all probability. Senator Wagner himself confused the issue by stating that he intended by his Act that there should be a signed contract, whereas in a letter to the editor of the New York Sun, written before any of the present strikes occurred, he said that no signed contract was intended. On which occasion did he say what he meant?

It is obvious that a new labor law must be written, a just, an equable, a nonpolitical law — one designed to put an end to socially and economically evil strikes such as the recent ones in steel and automobiles.

This should become a strikeless country. The law should make it strikeless — but that should not mean peace by compulsion, a murderous peace such as exists in Soviet Russia, Germany, and Italy. Such a peace is worse than hundreds of such strikes as we have had, because such peace enslaves both the worker and the employer.

Industrial peace must come to us not by arbitrary compulsion but by just law — by laws fixing the margins of responsibility for both the worker and the employer, by laws which forbid exploitation of the worker by the employer and at the same time prevent racketeering by labor unions. When President Roosevelt said, ‘A plague on both your houses,’he offered nothing constructive. We want no plagues in this country on anybody, but we do want honest law, honestly administered.

In the April Atlantic, I suggested this programme: —

1. Let every labor organization be required, like a corporation, to receive a state charter setting forth its rights, obligations, and responsibilities.

2. Let every labor organization be required to file annually with a public authority a statement of accounts, so broken down that the members of the union as well as the public may know how these funds are spent.

3. No labor union should be permitted to expend funds for political purposes without the personally confirmed consent of the membership, and all such expenditures should be made public.

4. The checkoff should be forbidden by law, and both employers and labor leaders should be made liable for its practice.

5. The workers’ representatives should be elected annually, with the right of recall, at a secret, democratic election held for each plant, on the basis of proportional representation. Strict regulations concerning these elections should be incorporated in the labor law. The rights of majorities, minorities, and individual workers should be made clear and should be fully protected.

Some law embodying suggestions of this nature must be passed if there is to be industrial peace in the United States.