• U.S.

PRODUCTION: Crunch–and Crisis

3 minute read

When 400,000 of the nation’s soft coal miners walked out April 1, the U.S. public paid little heed. Dopesters in & out of Washington expected that John L. Lewis would whittle down his demands. The miners would probably return to the pits along about the third week.

But in its fifth week, the coal strike was slowly throttling the productive life of the U.S. About 35,000 U.S. Steel employes were idle or down to part-time pay (other large steel companies were generally better off). About 20,000 railmen were out of work.

The Solid Fuels Administration’s local offices were swamped by requests from large & small businesses for “just one car of coal.” SFA had only 23,000 cars left (a little less than a normal day’s mining) of the 33,000 it had hoarded at the strike’s start. At best the supply might last another week. In Chicago and Philadelphia, hard-hit utilities prepared for a return to the wartime brownout.

No Castings: No Autos. Big business was not much better off. The auto industry may go on a three-day week. Ford had already laid off more than 45,000 men. General Motors Corp., after scouting feverishly, found enough coal to keep open its big foundry at Saginaw, Mich, for another five days. If the Saginaw plant shuts down, all Chevrolet production in the Flint-Detroit area (about 38,000 workers) would stop within a week for lack of castings. Iron-foundrymen, supplying parts for autos, farm implements, housing and a long list of other scarce products, saw widespread closings only a few days off. And when they closed, hundreds of those they supplied would have to close, too.

Steel production was down to 67.7% and falling fast. Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp. was down to 22% operations in the Pittsburgh-Youngstown district, and down to 40% in the Chicago-Gary area. Barren’s index of industrial production was down to 160.5, a drop of 14.6 since the strike’s start.

No Coal, No Trains. The railroads would soon feel the touch of paralysis. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was almost out of coal. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad was down to less than two weeks’ supply. Unless the mines opened by May 6, there would be a major railroad tie-up by May 15.

All John Llewellyn Lewis did was wave the threat of a new strike at the end of May—by the anthracite miners. Nevertheless, Labor Secretary Lewis B. Schwellenbach appointed onetime Assistant Secretary of Labor Edward F. McGrady as special conciliator, who persuaded Lewis and the operators to resume negotiations. This week the crunch of the strike had come. Next week would come the crisis.

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