The Homestead Strike occurred from June 30, 1892, to November 20, 1892, at the Homestead Steel Works in Homestead, Pennsylvania, between the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company. The strike was a result of a series of unsuccessful collective bargaining attempts between the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company. The dispute resulted in a lockout followed by a lengthy strike, which culminated in a violent fight between the strikers and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. This altercation represents one of several major events that led leaders of the industrial working classes and angry farmers to consider melding their movements for social and economic justice.
In the early 1890s, the price of steel fell, which prompted Henry Clay Frick, general manager of the Homestead Steel Works, to reduce operating costs. Frick felt that the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers was a hindrance to the mill's operation and sought to break the union. Andrew Carnegie, owner of the Homestead Steel Works, had been a public supporter of organized labor; however, he discreetly supported Frick in his effort to break the union. Prior to the end of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the mill, Carnegie and Frick agreed to increase production of steel in case they had to close the mill to break the union.
In February 1892, negotiations between Frick and the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers began. The union asked for increased wages, and Frick countered with a wage decrease. With no agreement in sight, Frick locked some of the employees out of certain sections of the mill. On June 29, 1892 a full lockout was in effect, and the mill was barricaded with a 12-foot-high barbed-wire fence. Carnegie and Frick felt that the workers’ desire for employment would outweigh their loyalty to the union. Only 750 of the 3,800 workers were members of the union; however, when workers met to vote on the strike, 3,000 voted in favor of a strike. On June 30, 1892, in conjunction with the Knights of Labor, the Amalgamated Association of Iron & Steel Workers initiated a strike.
During the strike the union workers attempted to keep the plant closed by driving off strikebreakers solicited by the mill. In response to the striking union workers and failed attempts to disperse the group by local sheriffs, Frick enlisted the help of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. When the Pinkertons attempted to enter the mill by barge, a dispute erupted and gunshots were fired; it is unknown who fired first. The violence continued as the union workers tossed dynamite into the river; they even poured oil in the river in an attempt to ignite the water around the barges. Due to the violent outburst, Pennsylvania Governor Robert E. Pattison ordered the state militia to the Homestead Mill to restore order.
After a strike lasting four months, on November 20, 1982, the workers voted to return to work. In response to the violent outbreak, authorities attempted to charge strike leaders and strikers with crimes; however, the attempts were unsuccessful. The physical victory over the Pinkertons was met by a larger defeat as Carnegie managed to force the unions out of the Homestead Mill as well as other mills in the Pittsburgh region.
See also: Cleveland, Grover (1837–1908) ; Knights of Labor ; Pullman Strike (1894)
Foner, Philip Sheldon. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. New York: International Publishers, 1975.
Krause, Paul. The Battle for Homestead, 1880–1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.
Warren, Kenneth. Triumphant Capitalism: Henry Clay Frick and the Industrial Transformation of America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.