Ohio History Journal

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Classes and Company Towns:

Legends of the 1937

Little Steel Strike

Much of the scholarship on organized labor in the 1930s remains

burdened by the polemics of the decade. Historians have often only

refined what writers for the union had composed for mass consumption

a few decades earlier. "A complex history, full of intricate relation-

ships," David Brody writes, has almost uniformly been presented as a

simple struggle between workers and managers.1 In doing so, labor

scholars have neglected the complexities of community life and the

interplay of social forces within the middle-sized towns and cities

that commonly served as the setting for industrial strife in the Depres-

sion era. Labor historians have frequently dismissed as servants of the

old, managerial order those community groups, local elites and police

functionaries not firmly committed to the union cause.2

A reexamination of events in three Ohio cities during the 1937

"Little Steel" strike offers a different perspective on the relationship

of the general community to the bitter month-long labor management

conflict.3 Most historians of this dispute have argued that the Com-

mittee for Industrial Organization's (CIO) defeat in this important

strike flowed from the solid opposition to the union by local news-


James L. Baughman is a graduate student in History at Columbia University.


1. David Brody, "Labor and the Great Depression: The Interpretative Prospects,"

Labor History, XIII (Spring 1972), 239, 244; Robert H. Zeiger, "Workers and Scholars:

Recent Trends in American Labor Historiography," Labor History, XIII (Spring 1972),


2. See, for example, Sidney Fine, Sit-Down, the General Motors Strike of 1936-1937

(Ann Arbor, 1969).

3. No comprehensive version of the strike has been published. The most complete

account is Donald G. Sofchalk, "The Little Steel Strike of 1937" (Ph.D. dissertation,

Ohio State University, 1961). Subsequent works have relied heavily upon the Sofchalk

dissertation or, like Sofchalk, referred almost exclusively to the hearings of the "La

Follette Committee," U.S., Senate, Committee on Education and Labor, Hearings

Persuant to S. R. 266, 75th Congress, 76th Congress, pts. 23-43 (hereafter cited as

Hearings), and The "Little Steel" Strike and Citizens' Committees, Senate Report No.

151, 77th Congress, 1st session, 1941. Other recent efforts include Michael Speer, "The

'Little Steel' Strike: Conflict for Control," Ohio History, LXXVIII (Autumn 1969),

273-87, and Irving Bernstein, The Turbulent Years, A  History of the American

Worker 1933-1941 (Boston, 1969), 478ff.