The 1919 STEEL STRIKE traces its origins back to 1918, when efforts were first made to try and unionize the steel industry. By the summer of 1919, there was a steel union "in every important mill town." When U.S. Steel refused to negotiate with the union, union leaders called for a national strike on 22 Sept. 1919. On that date, 18,000 workers in 16 unions went on strike in Cleveland. Sixteen Cleveland mills were closed; only one operated at full force. That same day 1,500 strikers met at BROOKSIDE RESERVATION to hear union organizers. Nationwide, the strike was 90% effective.
In Cleveland, as elsewhere, newspaper coverage focused more on the radical bent of the strike's organizers than on the unwillingness of the employers to negotiate. The PLAIN DEALER editorialized that "It was apparent that the leadership was in the hands of radicals and extremists," and that "the public was left apathetic to the appeals of the strikers." These elements, along with the violence associated with the strike, and the mill's use of strikebreakers, doomed the strike. By mid-October, American Steel and Wire (see U.S. STEEL CORP.) and Otis Steel had plans to reopen. On 17 Oct., two pickets outside of American Steel were shot, reportedly by machine gun fire from inside the plant, as they tried to keep workers from entering the plant.
Thereafter, one by one, steel plants began to reopen. Nationally, as well as locally, the strike officially ended on 8 Jan. 1920 with no concessions from U.S. Steel--and public suspicion, if not animosity, toward the union movement. It would be more than a decade before unions made major inroads into unionizing Cleveland's, and the nation's, steel plants.