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“We Ought to Have the Right to Belong to the Union”: Frank Smith Speaks on the 1919 Steel Strike

In the dramatic 1919 steel strike, 350,000 workers walked off their jobs and crippled the industry. The U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor set out to investigate the strike while it was still in progress. In his testimony before the committee, Hungarian-born Frank Smith, a Clairton worker, used his support for the war effort as evidence of his Americanism. “This is the United States,” he argued, “and we ought to have the right to belong to the union.”


The CHAIRMAN. What is your nationality?

Mr. SMITH. I am a Hungarian.

The CHAIRMAN. You are not naturalized.

Mr. SMITH. No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN. How long have you been in this country?

Mr. SMITH. Thirteen years. The reason that I am not naturalized is that I have never stayed long enough in one place; stayed long enough to get my papers.

Senator MCKELLAR. Do you expect to be naturalized?

Mr. SMITH. Yes; I expect to be naturalized, of course, because I’ve got my family here, my woman, and I have five children; and I have that family, and I would like to know how a man is going to make a living for himself and his wife and five children on $4.73 a day.

The CHAIRMAN. How many hours do you work?

Mr. SMITH. I work 10 hours a day and I get paid for straight 10 hours time.

The CHAIRMAN. And how many days in the week do you work?

Mr. SMITH. Seven days—sometimes six days and sometimes seven days.

The CHAIRMAN. Do you work on Sundays?

Mr. SMITH. Well, not so much.

The CHAIRMAN. Are there any other causes that led you to strike except the lack of money?

Mr. SMITH. Well, my conditions are all right. I can not say nothing about the conditions. My conditions are all right; and I would gladly keep the work if I could make a living. The conditions I was satisfied with, because I had never been kicked or abused, or anything like that whatever. The only thing that I am complaining against is that we are not getting enough money.

The CHAIRMAN. And that is the only objection that you have got?

Mr. SMITH. That is the only objection that I have got.

Senator MCKELLAR. Are there any other gentlemen in the crowd who would like to be heard?

Mr. SMITH. I say that that is not enough for a family of seven.

Senator PHIPPS. You seem to be pretty well dressed?

Mr. SMITH. Yes; I am, because I saved it up before I was married, and I have got to spend now what I saved before I was married.

The CHAIRMAN. You do not believe that two people can live cheaper than one, do you?

Mr. SMITH. No.

The CHAIRMAN. Are there any other complaints? Do you have your own papers here, printed in your own language?

Mr. MILLER. Well, we want eight hours' work and we want more pay.

The CHAIRMAN. Did they treat you in that way because you belonged to the union?

Mr. SMITH. Oh, they won’t allow us there if they know that we are union men.

The CHAIRMAN. Are you sure about that?

Mr. SMITH. Yes; I am sure about that.

The CHAIRMAN. And you want the right to belong to the union, too?

Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir; we do. This is the United States and we ought to have the right to belong to the union.

Senator MCKELLAR. Did all of you boys buy Liberty bonds?

Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir; everyone of us.

The CHAIRMAN. All of those present who bought Liberty bonds will raise their hands.

Mr. SMITH. Yes; we all bought them; every one of us.

(In response to the invitation of the chairman to raise their hands to designate that they had bought Liberty bonds, apparently all assembled raised their hands.)

Mr. SMITH. We were all for the United States. We worked day and night for that.

The CHAIRMAN. And how many of you contributed to the Red Cross and the Y.M.C.A.?

Mr. SMITH. Every one of us contributed $3 to them.

Mr. MILLER. We gave three days' work to the Red Cross. We would not go on strike at all if conditions were not so bad that you can not stand it.

The CHAIRMAN. You mean the conditions and the plant and the money that you get; you want more money?

Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.

Source: Investigation of Strike in Steel Industries, Hearings before the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. Senate, 66th Congress, 1st Session.

See Also:"We Do Not Understand the Foreigners": John J. Martin Testifies on the 1919 Steel Strike
"The Men Seem To Be Pretty Well Satisfied": John Anderson on the 1919 Steel Strike
"They Are Mostly All Foreigners on Strike": Joseph Fish Speaks on the 1919 Steel Strike
"It Is Entirely the Bolshevik Spirit": Mill superintendent W. M. Mink Explains the 1919 Steel Strike
"Forty-Two Cents an Hour" for Twelve to Fourteen Hours a Day: George Milkulvich Describes Work in the Clairton Mills after World War I
"We Did Not Have Enough Money": George Miller's Testimony about the 1919 Steel Strike
"Eight Hours a Day and Better Conditions": Andrew Pido Explains His Support for the 1919 Steel Strike
"I Witnessed the Steel Strike": Joe Rudiak Remembers the 1919 Strike