Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Homesteading

One hundred and eighteen years ago today, on July 6th 1892, a strike in Homestead Pennsylvania ended dealing a major setback to efforts of organized labor.

At 10:30PM on the night of July 5th the Pinkerton security agency loaded 300 men armed with Winchester repeating riffles onto some armored barges. Under the cover of darkness the barges were floated down the Ohio River from the Davis dam island to the Homestead steel plant that was surrounded by striking workers. The slowly moving barges were detected sentry stikers and at 2:30 Am an alarm whistle was blown to alert the other strikers.

The armored barges were strange looking, and by the time they approached their landing area a crowd had gathered on the shore to stare at them. Some of the crowd threw stones but were quickly stopped by strike leaders. The crowd just stared... until the Pinkertons began shooting at them. Two in the crowd were killed outright, and eleven others were seriously wounded. Unionists began firing back, and after about ten minutes had killed a couple of Pinkertons, and wounded a dozen more. The tug gathered the wounded agents and left. The remaining Pinkertons were stuck. They could not disembark and they could not float off downstream.

The crowd swelled to over 5,000. Someone produced an antique brass cannon to blast the barges out of the water. When they attempted to fire at the barges the cannon blew up killing several of the strikers.

Attempts were made to float dynamite down to the barges. Oil was poured into the river in an attempt to burn the barges. Many of the newly recruited Pinkerton agents refused to fire any more. By 4PM things were winding down. By 5PM the Pinkertons raised the white flag and surrendered.

The Pinkertons were marched through town under a hail of stones, spit and clubs. Onlookers were horrified.  News of the strikers' poor treatment of their prisoners carried the day.

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