The 32-Year Strike

Under the leadership of International President Frank Buchanan (A Local One Member) on January 17, 1902 the first national agreement was reached between the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (BSIW) and the American Bridge Company, unfortunately it was rejected by a referendum vote of the local unions. A subsequent national agreement was reached to be effective May 1, 1903 and terminate January 1, 1905. It was not as good as the agreement of 1902, but it passed and went into effect.

In March of 1903, U. S. Steel, the American Bridge Company and all the other companies involved in the erection of structural steel, banded together to form the National Erectors Association (NEA). The aim of the NEA was to destroy all the unions involved in the building trades, including Carpenters, Bricklayers and Masons, but especially Ironworkers.

Chapter 3 of the NEA constitution read:

“The aim of the association shall be the establishment and maintenance of the Open Shop principal in the employment of labor in the erection of steel and iron bridges and buildings and other structural and iron work.”

Everything changed in July, 1905, when American Bridge, at the behest of it’s parent company U.S. Steel, followed quickly by the National Erectors’ Association (NEA) locked out the Ironworkers (BSIW) across the country, who responded by striking nationwide.

By early 1906, the BSIW and the NEA were locked in a life and death struggle from coast to coast. The NEA promoted blacklisting, brass knuckles, clubs, tear gas, spies and strike-breakers to suppress the Ironworkers. The NEA convinced compliant judges to issue injunctions banning every visible manifestation of a strike. Workers were killed on the job. Picketing and hand-billing were outlawed and mass meetings of strikers and their supporters were violently suppressed by the police and goons paid by the NEA. In a short time the employers with the assistance of all levels of government established the open shop in every major American city except Chicago and San Francisco.

This National strike lasted until 1937 when it was ended with a handshake, not a contract. The reason management came to the table was the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the enactment of new labor laws. The first really pro-labor President.

If the police and the National Guard didn’t act forcefully enough for the ruling class, there was always the hiring of a private army of gunmen. As an example of his class, Railroad billionaire Jay Gould, one of the most powerful men at the start of the century said matter-of- factly: “I can hire half the working class to kill the other half.”