Cover image for Striking steel : solidarity remembered
Striking steel : solidarity remembered
Metzgar, Jack.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
viii, 264 pages, 10 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm.
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HD8039.I52 U574 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Having come of age during a period of vibrant union-centered activism, Jack Metzgar begins this book wondering how his father, a U.S> Steel shop steward in the 1950s and '60s, and so many contemporary historians could forget what this country owes to the union movement.

Combining personal memoir and historical narrative, Striking Steel argues for reassessment of unionism in American life during the second half of the twentieth century and a recasting of "official memory." As he traces the history of union steelworkers after World War II, Metzgar draws on his father's powerful stories about the publishing work in the mills, stories in which time is divided between "before the union" and since. His father, Johnny Metzgar, fought ardently for workplace rules as a means of giving "the men" some control over their working conditions and protection from venal foremen. He pursued grievances until he eroded management's authority, and he badgered foremen until he established shop-floor practices that would become part of the next negotiated contract. As a passionate advocate of solidarity, he urged coworkers to stick together so that the rules were upheld and everyone could earn a decent wage.

Striking Steel's pivotal event is the four-month nationwide steel strike of 1959, a landmark union victory that has been all but erased from public memory. With remarkable tenacity, union members held out for the shop-floor rules that gave them dignity in the workplace and raised their standard of living. Their victory underscored the value of sticking together and reinforced their sense that they were contributing to a general improvement in American working and living conditions.

The Metzgar family's story vividly illustrates the larger narrative of how unionism lifted the fortunes and prospects of working-class families. It also offers an account of how the broad social changes of the period helped to shift the balance of power in a conflict-ridden, patriarchal household. Even if the optimism of his generation faded in the upheavals of the 1960s, Johnny Metzgar's commitment to his union and the strike itself stands as an honorable example of what a collective action can and did achieve. Jack Metzgar's Striking Steel is a stirring call to remember and renew the struggle.

Author Notes

Jack Metzgar is Professor of Humanities at Roosevelt University

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Metzgar, a humanities professor, restores memories of the "golden age of the American working class, accounting for why it has been virtually forgotten." One of his primary concerns is that the role of unions in making life better in the 1950s and early 1960s is no longer acknowledged. He also considers how values have changed for those whose lives were made better. Metzgar uses the divisive steel strike of 1959 as a focal point and shows how it affected the nation, his community (Johnstown, Pennsylvania), and his own family. Metzgar's father had been a shop-floor organizer who helped the steelworkers' union win its first contract. He filed grievances for coworkers and fought to improve shop-floor practices, but he ultimately grew disaffected with the union's bureaucracy. Metzgar goes on to show how social changes in the 1960s began to drive father and son apart. This heartfelt narrative is partially Metzgar's attempt to understand and reconcile his differences with his father. In the end, he pays homage to those workers whose collective struggle was successful. --David Rouse

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Part 1 The 1959 Steel Strike
Prologuep. 13
1 Getting to 1959p. 17
2 No Backward Steps: The Biggest Strike in U.S. Historyp. 58
Part 2 Cause and Consequence
Prologuep. 85
3 2-B or Not 2-B: A Battle for "Rigid Union Work Rules"p. 94
4 When the Wolf Finally Came: Union Power and the Demise of Steelp. 118
Part 3 Remembering or Not
Prologuep. 149
5 Steel Family Memories and the Culture of Unionismp. 158
6 The Contest for Official Memoryp. 202
Appendix A Histories of Postwar Americap. 231
Appendix B Interviewsp. 232
Notesp. 235
Acknowledgmentsp. 255
Indexp. 257