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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA

UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA

The UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA in Cleveland has its roots in the 1870s with the formation of local branches of the Amalgamated Assn. of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers beginning ca. 1877. The amalgamated was involved in the CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES of 1882 and 1885 and remained active locally until 1892. In 1902 at least 2 locals of the Amalgamated Assn. of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers existed. In 1917-18, the American Federation of Labor planned to organize the steel industry nationally and formed a federation of 24 unions in the industry to coordinate the effort. When U.S. Steel refused to negotiate, the leaders called a national strike for 22 Sept. 1919, and more than 18,000 workers in 16 Cleveland unions struck, closing 17 Cleveland mills. Two pickets trying to intercept workers entering American Steel & Wire's Cuyahoga coke plant were shot in mid-October, and unity among striking unions began to disintegrate. The national strike ended on 8 Jan. 1920, with no concessions from U.S. Steel.

Another effort to organize the steel industry began in 1936 when the Amalgamated Assn. and the CIO agreed to form the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC). Locally, Cleveland delegates representing 25,000 workers met at Maennerchor Hall on 7 July 1936 to plan their organizing strategy. In the spring of 1937, the SWOC scored a major victory when U.S. Steel recognized the union as the bargaining agent for employees who were members of the amalgamated. However, the committee failed to secure recognition from independent steel producers, including REPUBLIC STEEL, which prompted the violent LITTLE STEEL STRIKE OF 1937, and the union was not recognized until 1942. The SWOC was officially reorganized as the United Steel Workers of America at a convention held in Cleveland Public Hall from 19-22 May 1942.

Plagued by wildcat strikes in Cleveland during the 1940s, the USW district director, William Donovan, helped formulate the agreement between local CIO unions and the CLEVELAND FEDERATION OF LABOR, in which the CFL agreed not to organize in the steel and auto industries and the CIO agreed to stay out of the building trades and trucking industries. Although the USW won improved pay and benefits from 1945-80, between 1981-85 local membership in District 28 fell from 47,000 to 26,000 as foreign competition and other forces prompted a massive reorganization of the American steel industry. With the advent of closed plants and laid-off workers, the steel union worked for job preservation and wage maintenance.

In April 1995, the Intl. Executive Board of the USWA voted to merge all local and regional districts into state districts. On 1 June 1995 District 28 and Ohio's 4 other districts combined to form District 1, with 61,000 members. In July 1995 the United Rubber Workers of America voted to join the USWA, expanding District 1's membership beyond 80,000.


Anthony J. DiSantis Papers, WRHS.