1900s >> 1909 >> no-63-november-1909

Factory conditions in Pittsburg

A Manchester man, at present working as a foreman carpenter in Pittsburg, writing on August 21, sends home some particulars of the strike at the works of the Pressed Steel Car Company. He states :—

The Pressed Steel Car Company’s works are situated at M’Kees Rocks, about four miles from Pittsburg, down the Ohio river. The Company is a branch of the Steel Trust. Of course you have already heard about the rioting and bloodshed, but you may not be acquainted with the causes of the strike. The strikers, some six thousand in number, belong to most of the nationalities of Europe, with a sprinkling of Americans. They are unorganised, and the majority cannot speak English. They worked long hours for starvation wages, were compelled to live in the Company’s “houses,” buy their groceries at the Company’s store, and make payments to foremen to retain their jobs. The men never knew how much money they would receive on pay-day. Pay-day was once a fortnight. Some received as little as nine dollars, while few got more than twenty dollars. When the Company had deducted money for rent, groceries, etc., the workers occasionally actually found themselves in debt after working full time ! The men lived in four-roomed wooden “shacks,” for which the Company charged rent at the rate of twelve dollars a month. If the “householder” took in a lodger the lodger was also charged twelve dollars a month by the Company, in addition to his payment to his “landlord.” One Hungarian had five lodgers ; the Company got sixty dollars from the lodgers and twelve from the Hungarian. The factory is known locally as the “slaughter-house.” A former Coroner of Allheghany County, now one of the principle officials of Pittsburg, has stated publicly that the deaths by accident in the works averaged one a day. There is no Workmen’s Compensation Act here. I once had an offer of work at the “slaughter-house,” but I declined the privilege. The allegations as to the treatment of the workers’ wives and daughters by the foremen and “bosses” are almost incredible. At the time of writing the Sheriff is evicting the strikers from the Company’s houses. Public sympathy is wholly with the men. The Socialists are trying to organise them and restrain them from violence, and a public relief fund has been started. The factory resembles a fortress ; armed guards, mounted and on foot, patrol about it night and day. The Company is endeavouring to keep the works going by importing workmen from the Eastern cities, but so far with small success. I enclose an extract from the “Pittsburg Leader” :—

“There are some 20,000 women and children and old and crippled people dependent upon these 5,000 workers. Any decent American farmer would furnish better quarters for his hogs than those in which live these victims of the highly protected Steel Trust. What wonder then, that the United States Steel Corporation is able to make a profit of $12.84 on an investment of every $21.16 !
“The interior of a company house is more hideous than the exterior. There is a bare floor, one or two chairs, a soap box or two for company, and cheap iron cots bought at the company store. The tired workers sleep on straw and on hot nights the bedrooms are sickening from the heat and smell. Bath rooms, sinks, and piping are unknown in these houses. The majority of the women carry the water they use from the river. The children run naked until they reach an age which makes it necessary to provide them with clothes. Ordinarily neither women nor children wear shoes or stockings. The average man has only overalls, shirt, and rough shoes.”

Manchester Guardian, Sept. 1, 1909.

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