The strikes and the strike breakers: First – Andrew Carnegie and the Homestead steel strike of 1892 Second – Ronald Reagan and the Air traffic Controllers’ Strike of 1981 Third – Governor Scott of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Public Employees union -‐ 2011 Union defeats in these three disputes led to major union busting efforts and blunted progress in a time of union growth, or accelerated a downward trajectory in a period of decline.
Carnegie and Homestead Works Skilled Steel Workers
For several years Andrew Carnegie had been building his fortune upon acquiring and operating steel companies and plants at a time when steel was the major growth industry enabling America to build cities and infrastructure that would make it the envy of the world. Carnegie’s holdings in steel were primarily in “unorganized” or non-‐union plants. In 1888 he acquired the unionized Homestead plant in Pennsylvania. At the time of his acquisition and early period of operation, unions (the plant union was the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, or AA) were comprised primarily of skilled personnel who worked cooperatively with management on productivity, efficiency and quality of the product. Unionized workers also held a great amount of personal security and a sense of ownership of their jobs. As Carnegie’s plants became more mechanized they required a large number of unskilled laborers that came in as non-‐union workers. The AA, a national union, was also organized in other steel plants in the Allegheny region. The union initiated a strike on June 30, 1892, which was followed by a management directed “lockout” of union workers.
While Carnegie left for an extended tour of Europe he left one of his managers, Henry Frick in charge. Frick had a plan to fiercely oppose the union, to not only end the strike – but to break the union entirely. Carnegie was complicit in the plan, but stayed in Scotland to keep himself comfortably above the fray.
Frick hired the Pinkerton Agency with an objective of overthrowing the striking workers that were occupying the perimeter around the plant (after a fence had been built by Frick to keep the workers out of