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B.J. Widick

In the Labor Unions

(7 July 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 48, 7 July 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The July issue of the Steel Workers Organizer, voice of the Northern New Jersey Steel Workers. Council (C.I.O.), carries a good editorial on the problems of the steel workers because of technological unemployment, and what can be done. It says:

“Machines and Men”

Recently the Irvin continuous strip mill of Carnegie-Illinois rolled 466 tons of tin plate in eight hours with a crew of six men – a new record.

We asked John Grajciar, of the S.W.O.C. in Warren, Ohio, an expert on tin mills, to give us a comparison of this record with the old hand mills, in terms of men. His findings are interesting in light of the problem of “machines and men.” Mr. Grajciar writes:

“I took a little time and just roughly figured it out in comparison with the three and four part tin mills of the Republic Steel Corporation at Warren, Ohio, and here are the approximate figures:

“The Irvin mill had a crew of six men on its cold reduction unit. In addition, I would judge, there were not more than forty men employed on the hot continuous mill that reduces the slab of hot strip for a further reduction into tin plate on the cold reduction. This gives a total of 56 men. Their output in eight hours was 447 tons, a record.

“Assuming that each of the men averaged $10 a day, which is a very liberal estimate, the total wage bill for the Carnegie-Illinois company was $560 to produce 447 tons of tin plate.

“On a three-part hand tin mill of the Republic Steel to produce an equivalent tonnage, it would require 74 crews with nine men on a crew. In addition, there would be fifty shearmen and approximately 100 openers. This makes a total of 816 men, or an approximate wage cost of $10,740.

“On a four-part hand tin mill, 447 tons would require 88 crews of nine men each, plus 50 shearmen and 100 openers. This amounts to 942 men at an approximate payroll of $12,240.

“In other words, the new strip mill with 56 men can produce 447 tons at a wage cost of $560, or a wage cost of $1.25 a ton. While on a three-part hand mill 816 men are required to produce 447 tons at a wage cost of $10,740, or $24 a ton; and, even worse, the labor cost per ton on the four-part hand tin mill is $27.30.

“There is little wonder that this country is in such difficult economic times, because none of this saving has been passed on to the consumer, because tin plate is selling for $3 a short ton more today than two years ago. And, furthermore, more than one-half the tin plate that is produced in America is produced on the continuous strip mills.”

Steel Council Answers

The answer to this problem was given by the Steel Council last month and in the second issue of the Organizer. The delegates that met in Erie, Pa., last month joined our national parade when they adopted resolutions for the 6-hour day and the 30-hour week at the base pay rate of $1.00 hourly for steel workers.

It is the duty of the S.W.O.C. to solve the terrible effects of unemployment caused by modern labor displacing machinery. Negotiations with Big Steel must contain the demands for a reduction in hours with no reduction in the weekly pay. Make America’s Sixty Families pay.

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