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history of unions in Western Pennsylvania is strong and rich. Factors including locality and population growth made western Pennsylvania, more specifically Pittsburgh, an ideal place for various industries. Sullivan (1955) asserts that Pennsylvania was ideal because it possessed many natural resources. The state possessed wooded mountains and fertile valleys. In addition, the state provided access to huge deposits of coal and iron ore. Sullivan (1955) the author also explains that the landscape was ideal because of the two waterways, the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, which provided access to world markets for Pennsylvania's various natural products (Sullivan 1955).
'This richly-endowed colony with its heterogeneous population was destined to assume a commanding position among the English settlements in North America. Throughout the eighteenth century, its commerce and industries held a preeminent position in British America, and Philadelphia, its capital, was unquestionably the cultural and intellectual center of the thirteen English colonies (Sullivan 1955)."
Sullivan (1955) asserts that Pittsburgh in particular had a significant potential for manufacturing. In fact, as early as 1786 media outlets such as the Pittsburgh Gazzete were asserting that the city would become a place of "great manufactory; indeed the greatest on the continent, or perhaps in the world (Sullivan 1955)." Like other cities in Pennsylvania, the location of Pittsburgh was ideal for the industries that it supported. For instance, the city is located at the point at which the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers converge (Sullivan 1955). Prior to 1860, this was considered the most important channel of both transportation and migration between the Atlantic seaboard and the Trans-Appalachian West. Sullivan (1955) asserts, "No other city in the State grew as rapidly as this one. Pittsburgh in 1803 had a population of about 2,500. In 1820, this city had 7,248 inhabitants; ten years later, it had 12,568, indicating a 73% increase; and by 1840, this city had a population of 21,115 making it the fifth city in the nation. In a struggle that began over the control of this strategically located village the French lost an Empire (Sullivan 1955)."
It is evident from the research that the influx of settlers into the region, and the benefits of living in the region aided in the rapid development that took place in Pennsylvania. More specifically these factors contributed to what would become an enormous labor movement as the demand for products and workers increased. Over the next few paragraphs, the discussion will focus on the rise of unions in Western, Pennsylvania.
History and Rise of Unions in Western, PA
It was during the time of rapid growth that workers in Pennsylvania recognized that the conditions of their employment were deplorable (Sullivan 1955). For this reason, workers decided to organize and bargain collectively in an effort to better their employment conditions (Sullivan 1955). According to Sullivan (1955), there are many reasons why workers felt the need for such organization (Sullivan 1955).
The author explains that the main factor was the increased number of people in the wage earning class (Sullivan 1955). This situation created merchant capitalist who possessed large amounts of money (Sullivan 1955). This combined with the vast market, placed a division between capital and labor and compelled the workers to defensive action against the "inroads of a Mushroom Nobility" (Sullivan 1955). The author reports that workers were forced into labor unions because the labor movement was becoming increasingly class conscious; which had the potential to threaten their standards of living (Sullivan 1955).
This threat was particularly difficult for skilled artisans who were the first to form labor unions (Sullivan 1955). The author asserts that the development of industry that took place during the 19th and early 20th century brought with it the beginning of steam-driven machinery and the expansion of the factory system. These two forces threatened the paramount postured of skilled artisans (Sullivan 1955). It effectively brought unskilled hands and additional wage earners into direct competition with skilled artisans. At was at this time labor became an organized and active force in both the economic and social life of Americans (Sullivan 1955).
Indeed Finally, Sullivan asserts that the 'idea of antagonistic interests between the workers and their employers was of slow but persistent growth. Early in the nineteenth century at the trial of the Philadelphia cordwainers this discord which was to characterize the relations between capital and labor was very much in evidence. Subsequent decades saw it spread to most of the other trades. By the middle 1830's it had permeated almost all group of workers including the factory operatives and the day laborers. This growing awareness on the part of the wage earners that their interests as a class were separate and distinct from the other classes in society found expression in the numerous labor organizations which sprang up throughout the State and in the increasing strife, and charge and counter-charge which marred the relations between the workers and their employers (Sullivan 1955)."
The most pervasive industry in western Pennsylvania was the steel industry. Pittsburgh in particular produced a large amount of steel and thus had many steel workers. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries the steel industry used tactics of intimidation to prevent workers from forming unions (Early History). Some workers even lost their lives because of these tactics (Early History). However, the unions gained some credence with the 1889 strike of the Carnegie Company Mill located in Homestead, Pennsylvania (Early History). This strike created a contract between the workers and the mill, which was composed of the conditions under which the employees would work (Early History). However, the union that worked at creating this contract, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers was eventually disbanded (Early History).
The next attempt to create a steel union occurred in 1919 with the support of the a American Federation of Labor (Early History). During that year over 360,000 steal workers decided to strike. However, the industry resisted the strike by bringing in strikebreakers from Mexico and Marshall Law was put into effect in some states (Early History). Twenty people died during the strike and the steel industry still failed to recognize unions (Early History).
However, the leverage that steel companies had over employees came to a grinding halt as a result of the Depression. Brody (1965) asserts that the depression had an impact on the paternalistic approach to labor relations. In his research, Brody found that the idea of welfare capitalism pervaded the steel industry (Brody 1965). This concept contends that the steel companies believed that they were all powerful and that the demand for U.S. steel would always protect deserving employees (Brody 1965). However, the decline in the economic condition of the company dispelled this belief. The depression was evidence that "The giant firm could not prevent unemployment, nor even relieve the hardships of its men. The steel corporation ... was "at the mercy of business just like any other corporation (Brody 1965)."
The first steel union to be fully recognized by the steel industry was which was formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June 7, 1936, with the formation of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). This union was unique because it had a stable foundation and the superb management of Philip Murray (Early History). SWOC and the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers were instrumental in forming the organizing drive which attract 125,000 workers in 1936 (Early History).
Although the organization of the steel workers aided in the formation of a new labor law; there was still a great deal of violence throughout the country related to work conditions present in the steel industry (Early History). These conflicts arose in Chicago, Youngtown, Ohio and throughout Pennsylvania (Early History). Finally, some steel companies recognized the power of the union and knew they would have to negotiate with them (Early History). In 1942 the SWOC and the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers was disbanded (Early History). In place of these entities the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). The USWA became instrumental in insuring the rights of steel workers (Early History). The union was able to negotiate pensions and organized other strikes including one for paid holidays for members (Early History).
During much of the late 18th through the early 20th centuries there was very little structured education for those living in Western Pennsylvania. Baldwin (1937) reports that
"Until 1789 Pittsburgh youth depended for instruction upon fly-by-night teacher who set up school wherever they could rent a room and who charged as much tuition as the parents of the pupils would pay. In November, 1786, a Mrs. Pride started "a boarding and day school for young ladies" and advertised that she would teach needlework and "Reading English, and knitting if required." About the same time the "inhabitants of Pittsburgh" advertised for "a man who understands Vocal Music, and who can teach it with propriety." In January, 1788, a Thomas Tonsey opened a school in which were taught "the Latin Language, Reading English Grammatically, Writing,…[continue]
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