THE STRIKE AT HARRISVILLE
Labor strikes are terribly disagreeable things to encounter whether in the daily routine of steel mills and railways, or in the kitchen before breakfast on blue Monday. Especially inconvenient are strikes in steel mills when the order books are full as were those of the Harrisville Iron & Steel Co. That the company had large orders could not possibly be concealed. Vast quantities of ore, limestone, and coke were being delivered daily at the mills. Never were more men on the pay-roll, and all the machinery of the gigantic plant was crowded to its utmost night and day. That business had improved was evident to everybody.
In love and war all things are fair, and the same principle, or lack of it, seems to control most modern strikes. No doubt what young Alfonso Harris told his mother on the steamer was true, that the labor agitators were advised of Reuben Harris’s plan to sell the steel plant to an English syndicate. Souls of corporations decrease as the distance between labor and capital increases, and naturally American employees oppose foreign control of every kind.
For more than a year the employees had accepted reduced wages with the understanding that the old scale should be restored by the company as soon as times improved and the business warranted. That the employees had timed their strike at an opportune moment was apparent even to stubborn Reuben Harris. It was galling indeed to his sensitive nature and proud spirit that his project of selling the steel plant for millions should have failed.
As he kissed his wife good-bye on the steamer in New York, her last words were, “Reuben, stand up for your rights.” Her avaricious spirit had always dominated him.
Before Reuben Harris left his city office for his home he had arranged, in addition to the precaution taken by the mayor, to dispatch to the mills and homes of his employees twenty-five special detectives in citizens’ clothes, who were to keep him fully advised as to the doings of his employees about the mills and in their public and private meetings. He had given his men no concessions in a previous strike which lasted for months. He would neither recognize their unions nor their demand for shorter hours.
It was true he had risen to be a millionaire from the humble position of a blacksmith, but he was always severe in his own shop. Every horse must be shod, and every tire set in his own way. He heated, hammered, and tempered steel just as he liked, and if anybody objected he replied, “Go elsewhere then.” To have one’s own way in life is often an expensive luxury. In his first great mill strike Colonel Harris lost most of his skilled labor and the profits of half a year. His own hands and those of James Ingram became callous in breaking in new employees.
Gertrude had arrived on the evening of the third day of the strike, and had busied herself in unpacking her trunk. She knew her father too well to talk much to him about the strike. While waiting in the drawing-room for her father, knowing that George was too busy to come to her, she had written to her lover as follows:—