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, Clairton worker George Miller called the 1919 strike a quest for “a standard American living”—a phrase that was particularly meaningful to the Serbian-born Miller.
STATEMENT OF GEORGE MILLER
Mr. MILLER. Well, if I got sickness in my home, he want to lay me off, if they can not get a man in my place, and I have sickness in my home, then if I go home, he will lay me off. When they get a man in my place, they tell me, “Go ahead and stay home.”If my family gets sick and I ask my foreman that I want off that day, because my woman is sick at home, he say “All right,” and he will go around and get another man if he can, and if he can not he will let me off. The next day I will come back and there will be a man in my place and I say to him “My woman is better.” He will say “You can go home and stay home.”
The CHAIRMAN. Is that the way the others are treated?
Mr. MILLER. That is the treatment of every other worker.
The CHAIRMAN. The complaint is that the bosses do not treat you right. Is that what you mean?
Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.
Senator MCKELLAR. Do you mean that you do not get off when there is sickness in your family and distress in your family? And when you do have a man take your place, they discharge you?
Mr. MILLER. They say, “Go home and stay home if you want to.”
The CHAIRMAN. Don’t they allow you go come back to work?
Mr. MILLER. Not if they get another man in your place.
Senator MCKELLAR. What pay do you think you are entitled to?
Mr. MILLER. Well, there is not enough money for the workmen. We work 13 hours at night and 11 hours at day, and we get 42 cents an hour.
Senator MCKELLAR. And how much is that a day?
Mr. MILLER. For a 12-hour day it makes $4.20 and for the longer day it makes $5.04.
Senator MCKELLAR. A day?
Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.
Senator MCKELLAR. Why did you strike?
Mr. MILLER. Why did we strike? We did not have enough money so that we could have a standard American living.
The CHAIRMAN. Have you figured out how much an hour you want.
Mr. MILLER. It should be more than that.
Senator MCKELLAR. More than 42 cents an hour?
Mr. MILLER. Yes; I have a wife and two children ?
Senator MCKELLAR. Yes.
Mr. MILLER. And take all I make and I can not put one penny aside, and if my family gets sick and I call a doctor, he won’t come down for nothing, and I do not make enough money to pay a doctor and he won’t come for nothing.
Senator MCKELLAR. And your complaint is that the conditions are harsh, in the first place, and the wages are not high enough?
Mr. MILLER. Well, there is another thing. If I get in the mill but three quarters of a minute late in the morning, they take off an hour, off of me. Then if I stay five minutes over the hour I should quit in the mill, they won’t give me an hour for the five minutes at all.
Senator MCKELLAR. Do they allow you anything for the five minutes?
Mr. MILLER. No sir; they won’t allow me anything for the five
minutes. They won’t allow anything. They will take it off of me if I am a minute late, but they won’t give me anything if I work five minutes overtime.
The CHAIRMAN. How long have you worked at the mill?
Mr. MILLER. Thirteen years.
Senator MCKELLAR. And what is your nationality?
Mr. MILLER. I am a Serbian.
Senator MCKELLAR. And are you a naturalized American citizen?
Mr. MILLER. I believe I am.
Senator MCKELLAR. And you have a right to vote in this country, have you?
Mr. MILLER. Why, yes.
The CHAIRMAN. I see that there are quite a number of gentlemen around here, and I am going to ask them how many of them are American citizens and those that are American citizens I will ask to hold up their hands, so that we can see how many are here. How many have got your full naturalization papers, your American citizenship papers?
(The above was repeated to the crowd through an interpreter, and three of those assembled held up their hands.)
A VOICE. There are plenty of American citizens out on strike at their homes.
The CHAIRMAN. Now gentlemen, we want to treat you all exactly alike. We want to treat the mill owners and the men alike; and we want to find out the exact conditions here. That is the idea of this committee.
Source: Investigation of Strike in Steel Industries, Hearings before the Committee on Education and Labor, United States 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 Ought to Have the Right to Belong to the Union": Frank Smith Speaks on 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