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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES

CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES

The CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES occurred during the summer of 1882 and 1885 and involved skilled workers who were largely of British origin, as well as Polish and Czech unskilled laborers who were working in the company's facilities near present-day Jones Rd. and Broadway. In May 1882, the Amalgamated Assn. of Iron & Steel Workers, representing skilled workers, demanded a closed shop for the association which would also set the wage scale. When the demands were rejected by the company's president, William Chisholm, the workers walked out, and the company hired unskilled Polish and Czech workers as lower-cost strikebreakers. On 5 June the rolling mill reopened, but violence erupted on 13 June as Czech workers and police were stoned by strikers, turning public sympathy away from the union. By the end of July, the strike had virtually collapsed as a result of the city's support of the company, the public attitude, and the union's inability to gain support of the new unskilled workers.

In the summer of 1885 a more massive and violent strike occurred, this time led by the POLES and CZECHS protesting wage cuts made by Chisholm in response to a business recession. The striking wire mill workers invaded the other mills, forcing the entire company to shut down, though their violent tactics met with disapproval from the English-speaking skilled workers who supported the strike. On 6 July, 1,500 marched to Chisholm's downtown office and demanded a restoration of the wage cuts, and when Chisholm refused 1,000 Poles and Czechs forced the H. P. Nail Co. and the Union Steel Screw Co. to close (Chisholm owned stock in both). When the Rolling Mill Co. tried to reopen on 13 July, another riot ensued. Unable to unite skilled and unskilled workers, many of Amalgamated's skilled workers returned to work in September. With another attack on the mills by the Poles and Czechs in the offing, Mayor GEORGE GARDNER ordered Chisholm to restore the June wage cut, and the strike ended. Chisholm, however, refused to rehire many of his former Polish and Czech workers.