Today in labor history: Anarchist attacks steel magnate

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On July 23, 1892, an anarchist named Alexander Berkman decided to avenge the Homestead massacre.

Eighteen days earlier, in Homestead, Pa., nine strikers were killed in a police action that took place completely at the behest of the Carnegie Steel Corporation.

Naturally, outrage and anger spread across the nation with everyone from labor organizations and community groups, to churches civic associations, anarchists and many others mounting verbal and written protests including demonstrations and marches.

One anarchist, Alexander Berkman, decided that the best way to avenge the Homestead massacre was to take matters into his own hands.

His plot involved two parts - the part that would end the life of the steel company's chief executive officer, Henry Clay Frick and the part in which Berman, to avoid arrest and prosecution, would kill himself.

The assassin's tools he brought with him were a gun and a knife. Although he managed to both shoot and stab Frick, the steel magnate survived the attack and recovered from his injuries.

After the attempted killing Berman tried to use a suicide bomb he had brought with him but it failed to detonate.

Some 21 years later on the same date, July 23, 1913, Northern Michigan copper miners went on strike for union recognition, higher wages and an 8-hour day. For nine long months they waged what would ultimately become a losing battle. They gave up the following April 1 but only after they saw at least 100 of themselves being arrested on a wide variety of trumped-up charges and only after they had seen their leader, Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, shot and beaten and then forced out of town.

In less dramatic but much more recent labor history, on July 23, 1981, the Aluminum Workers International Union merged with the United Brick and Clay Workers of America to form the Aluminum, Brick and Clay Workers. [In 1997 they merged with the United Steelworkers International Union, known today as UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 105.]

Photo: The Homestead mill on the Monongahela River. The Carnegie Steel Corporation was capitalized at $25,000,000 and was the world's largest manufacturing firm at the time.

 

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