By Taylor Fronk
The recent strike at Youngstown State University is not an unusual event for the Mahoning Valley. For decades, the working class in the area has often been at odds with employers.
During the Little Steel Strike of 1937, workers for Youngstown Sheet and Tube and Republic Steel went on strike to fight for fair wages and better conditions. At the time, the companies didn’t recognize unions.
H. William Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, said the strike was unprecedented.
“It was difficult for people in this area. Families struggled. The economy struggled. The negative impacts of the strike echoed throughout the Valley,” he said.
According to a Tribune Chronicle article published in 2017, 18 people died, 300 people were injured and nearly 20,000 workers stayed away from their jobs during the Little Steel Strike.
Although the strike ended in 1937, the companies did not recognize the unions until 1941.
“Historically, strikes happen because two parties won’t listen to one another,” Lawson said. “The teachers in Boardman went on strike when I was in high school. It was sad and had a real impact on myself and other students, but also on our community as a whole.”
Paul Grilli comes from a family of millworkers and created TheRustJungle.com, where he uses photography and worker accounts to preserve the history of the mills. He believes it’s important for people to remember the strikes..
“One of the reasons for the strikes is people are living in squalor. They’re working [them] to death. They’re hardly paying [them],” he said.
He said he wants people to know their history, and learning about the strikes is one way to gain perspective.
“Personally, it’s taught me a lot about the power of one versus the power of a group as a whole,” he said. “I hope people don’t lose sight of that, because if you give in and bow down to the company or the government, you know, if you band together then you really have a voice.”
According to coverage by The Vindicator, 1974 was a big year for strikes. The United Auto Workers union went on strike against General Motors for a better workplace experience. Independent truck drivers went on strike against steel hauling companies, which required the National Guard to step in to break up the violence.
Donna DeBlasio, former site manager of the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, is versed in the history of strikes in the area. DeBlasio said strikes are a part of Youngstown history.
“Whether it’s steel workers, auto workers, teachers — these people have something to say,” she said. “It’s a big part of who we are. We have this rich history of industry and people who wouldn’t let their voices not be heard.”