The entire US steel industry was shut down for months in 1959. What happened?

The entire US steel industry was shut down for months in 1959. What happened?

In 1959, 500,000 US steel workers went on strike. These were members of the labor union United Steelworkers of America (USWA) which contained almost all of the steel workers in the country. The strike started two weeks after the previous contract ended and lasted 116 days.

The USWA was fighting for wage increases for their workers due to the major American steel companies reporting high profits. The companies only wanted to allow slight wage increases and eliminate a section from their contract that didn't allow the companies to reduce the number of workers or replace them with machines.

When the current contract was set to expire, President Eisenhower asked both sides to extend their current agreement and resume bargaining. The union agreed, but the steel companies refused. On July 15th, the workers would go on strike and would remain so until November 7th, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government over a Taft-Hartley injunction that ordered the workers back to work.

The strike ended with the injunction being upheld as constitutional, but the new contract wasn't negotiated until the intervention of then-vice president Richard Nixon, who spoke with the industry leaders and told them they would not have support from either party if there was a recession during an election year. Nixon planned on running for president the next year.

In the end, the contract contained a wage increase of seven cents—much lower than what the union originally wanted—while the section that management wanted taken out was left in. The workers also received an automatic cost-of-living wage adjustment as well as greatly improved pension and health benefits. The USWA considered it a win.



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