Crushed By What Is Known as "The System,"
the Mills of the South Side Are Transformed into Mints
That Coin Wealth for the Owners from Bodies and Souls of
the Unfortunates Who Enter Their Gates--
The "Pluck Me" Store a Shackle That Binds the Toiler Tightly
in Its Coils--Spy System, Blacklist and Hatred for Unions are Factors--
First of a Series of Startling and Authentic Revelations.
Editor's Note. The series of articles describing industrial and economic conditions on the South Side have been carefully prepared and carefully written. They aim to simply set out the facts, not to express an opinion. The data was collected and the articles written by a man familiar with industrial conditions. An industrial worker himself, he knows just where the economic pressure is strongest. He is not an "uplifter," or a theoretical investigator, but one who has passed through some of the experiences that are an affliction to so many others. He was not misled by strange stories, because he has lived the life of the industrial worker, and could not confuse fancy with facts. The series will be continued in the Leader from day to day until the entire story is told.
From The Pittsburg
Leader, 3 April 1912.
What is the matter with the South Side?
This is the question that is asked continually, and the answer is a big one. The question is never asked by the people of the South Side, because they know. They give the answer.
The South Side has been crushed to death by what is known as "The System." It is a maimed, crippled giant, lying bruised and crumpled up under the deadly weight of greed and oppression.
In one generation the Jones and Oliver interests alone have accumulated on the South Side $130,000,000. This is a sum of money, a pile of golden dollars that staggers the human mind.
That's what is the matter with the South Side.
The people have been exploited right and left, winter and summer, good
season and bad, through the life of a whole generation. The Olivers and
Joneses have grown rich, and richer, while the mill workers, the
industrial slaves within the gates, have just as steadily, just as
certainly, grown poorer, more poverty stricken.
One side of the picture of the South Side shows the Jones mint, which has turned out $80,000,000, casting a longer shadow across the lives of the toiling mill workers who earned it than the Oliver mint, which has run human lives through its machinery and coined only a trifling $50,000,000.
That's what is the matter with the South Side.
And this Oliver and this Jones are the men who are telling these
toiling creatures, defrauded of their due, of the "prosperity" they have
brought to the working class of the South Side.
They are the men who are telling the workingmen of Allegheny county that they are trying to force William H. Taft upon the American people because Taft can be depended upon to keep up this "prosperity" that has coined the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers into eighty million dollars for B. F. Jones, Jr., and fifty millions for George T. Oliver.
Have you ever passed through a community recently stricken by some
great calamity? Have you ever wandered through a large town, or big
city, soon after some staggering, numbing disaster swept through it? The
quiet that comes to nerves shocked to the point where sensibility
practically ceases is the first condition that attracts your attention.
You may feel as you walk along, shifting from street to street, seeing
and hearing with a sympathy that expands and expands as your contact
spreads through the whole community, that these people are without
feeling. They show no emotion, they make no outcry, they shed no tears,
yet they seem to be suffering and in grief.
Then you feel and see that these people are suffering too much to know just how much they are suffering. They are not making any noisy demonstration of their agony because they are too much stunned. Nature seems to have mercifully stepped in to spare them from normal sensations because to allow them to go on would mean death, or that living death we call insanity.
You who have followed the path of a great disaster that has stricken down thousands in the twinkling of an eye, and have gazed upon the human agonies that always go with these tragedies, may find a duplication on the South Side today. You will see the same heartbroken men and women, dry-eyed because the tears refuse to furnish them relief any longer, moving about in silence or speaking in tones that mirror a fear that is so compelling to them, but which you, as a spectator, can only guess at.
Silent From Fear
They speak of their dead and their dying and of their sufferings in cold, subdued tones, destitute of feeling or emotion, in the most matter of fact manner. You soon come to realize the hardening process even more keenly than they do themselves. For they are stunned by the constant contact with the forces that numb their sensibilities while you are normal as a noncombatant.
The wayfarer, familiar with the effects upon the human mind by widespread tragedy, may walk from end to end of the South Side and find thousands and thousands of people in that condition. They are stunned, numbed, shocked so far that their nerves and sensibilities no longer even have a resemblance to the normal. When they try to laugh the best they can do is to show a wan smile, pathetic in its simplicity, but better as an illustration of brave hearts trying to show a courageous front in the face of danger and death than a real smile. It is a smile that hurts one to see.
This is the actual condition of the people of the South Side. It is the result of greed, bred and fostered by a system that demands lives, and more lives, and then more lives, that the system may be kept moving.
It feeds upon human lives, and human lives must be cast into it all the time, day and night, that other human lives may be saved for a little while longer. And so it has taken thousands and thousands of lives to coin that pile of $80,000,000 for B. F. Jones, Jr., and that $50,000,000 for George T. Oliver.
It is industrialism under full pressure.
It is mechanical production working at high speed to make efficiency more efficient.
It is The Formula at work.
Lives for Dollars
It is the lives of human beings, the old, the young, the stalwart, the youthful, the robust, the frail, the infant in the cradle, all being thrown into the scale against the dollar.
It is the process of coining human flesh, and blood, and bone, and palpitating tissues into money, good cold cash.
It is the method of darkening, and warping, and shrinking the existence of struggling people, fighting daily against overwhelming odds, and casting down the very souls that we are told are so precious.
It is the modern game of profitmaking.
It is the form of slavery of our day that the law provides for.
It is capitalism on the march.
It is hell.
Until the industrial conditions of the South Side are explained to an investigator he might well believe he had fallen into a section that had just been made the victim of some overpowering and resistless disaster. That the people are victims of some tremendous force of which they stand in terror is evident on every hand. It needs no trained eye to see that here is a people bearing some burden that has sapped life itself to sustain.
At the entrance to the lane that leads from Carson street, just above South Twenty-seventh street, to the Jones & Laughlin Steel company plant ought to be a ponderous banner covering the space between the buildings on each side, to carry the words:
That's what it means to enter that gate as an employee of the Jones & Laughlin Steel company.
When a man walks through that gate he becomes practically the property of the great corporation. He is its slave from that day until he dies or quits, if he dares quit, or finds himself upon its list of undesirables. This is vulgarly known as the blacklist. Jones & Laughlin would say you were one of their "reorganized" men. Between being reorganized and being on the blacklist there is only a little difference in the spelling. In either case he has ceased to exist as a worker in a steel plant.
Slavery in the Jones & Laughlin plant means slavery. It doesn't mean slavery in the abstract or academic sense. It doesn't mean slavery as a figurative condition. It means slavery.
Slavery over there means that unless a man is different from about 11,000 other men in the plant Jones & Laughlin will collect his earnings for him and distribute them. If he had it he would call it spending it, but the more refined expression is distribution.
There are men who have spent their lives in the steel plant of the Jones & Laughlin Steel company and received cash only at long intervals, one man three times in five years. They eat a little, they sleep a little and they work much, but they never get any money. Another man drew less than $50 in cash in the last two years.
The reason is that the Jones & Laughlin Steel company has a large department store at South Twenty-sixth and Carson streets. There the approximately 11,000 workers in the big plant buy what takes up their earnings in the mill, so they have no actual use for money as a means of supporting life.
The company store, the "Pluck Me," is against the laws of Pennsylvania, so this big six-storied, massive brick building is not in the name of the Jones & Laughlin Steel company. Far from it. The big bronze plates at each corner of the front on Carson street vouch for the ownership of the Pittsburg Mercantile company. Jones & Laughlin have nothing to do with it. Of course not. Doesn't the sign show that!
Jones & Laughlin wouldn't violate the laws of the state. But if they did, what's the law among friends? Orthodoxy on this point is that prominent business men are the men who uphold the sacred law and sustain our established institutions. If our prominent business men ever let go of our sacred laws and other institutions they would just go to smash. It's only anarchists that violate the laws and our sacred institutions.
The "Pluck Me" Store
So Jones & Laughlin, not being anarchists, don't violate the laws of Pennsylvania in operating a huge "Pluck Me" store. By no means. Jones & Laughlin simply organize the Pittsburg Mercantile company and violations of the laws are still left to the anarchists.
The "Pluck Me" store of the Pittsburg Mercantile company of Jones & Laughlin is the second step in the system of slavery that has done so much to pile up those eighty millions of dollars. The first step is the steel plant. Once a man becomes an inmate of the mill he is manacled to the "Pluck Me" store and until he dies he gets no release from either. Like the Negro victim of southern camps, the longer he works and the more he earns the more he runs into debt. So he just spends his life right there trying to fight against odds that give him no chance, hoping in hopeless fashion against a baseless hope that something will turn up somehow to set him free.
But nothing comes to bring relief except death, save to an occasional fortunate who may have momentarily developed a flash of the spirit of the soldier of fortune. Men have gone into that slave pen as mere youths, or in the dawning years of young, triumphant manhood, and they are still there, gray-haired, with seamed faces and eyes that have a hunted look, the penalty of years of grinding struggle against every unfair maneuver to harass, to despoil, to rob, to kill.
Years of hard, back-breaking toil, long hours and fierce exertions have brought nothing but a bare existence, and that hanging upon the whim of some one or more than one boss, but given some faint safety by that indebtedness at the "Pluck Me" store, operated against the laws of the state under the name of the Pittsburg Mercantile company.
Some of the hunted look in the eyes of the victims of the Jones & Laughlin Steel company is the product of the Russian spy system that runs through the plant as invisible as an electric current that flashes through a copper wire. The Russian system at the upper end of the South Side is near enough to perfection to make St. Petersburg and Moscow ashamed of themselves. The Russian police might easily pick up some useful points in the Jones & Laughlin plant.
The spy system is a combination of the Russian third section and the rat tactics of the modern penitentiary. No man is safe, and no man is less safe than the innocent man. The toilers are forbidden by the rules of the pen to speak to each other. Thus the secret service men and the rat are given the first chance to make an attack. They may talk to another, the victim, because they are safe, and it is a brave slave who dares to talk to some tempter he is not certain is not a member of the third section, or of the rat trap brigade.
The executive staff of the Jones & Laughlin plant, what the toilers call the straw bosses, can put their fingers on any one of their 11,000 men at any time, INSIDE THE PLANT OR OUT. The espionage begins with the lowest form of straw boss because he is closest to the slave in the pen, and because to keep from dropping down among the slaves himself he feels that faithfulness to his task of trapping indiscreet slaves and making report to the straw boss next in rank above him he is making himself more secure. He isn't, of course, but he believes he is. Thus the knowledge of the indiscretion of any slave travels in a flash from the lowest and most degraded atom of the rat staff of straw bosses to the highest and most detestable and most detested--and there the credit is posted opposite his name.
This spy system, working on a hair trigger, once brought the loss of jobs to 1,000 men, who were "reorganized" in one lump. The other slaves knew it and will tell you that these men were "canned" and have not worked since. I have explained that a "reorganized" man is one who is on the undesirable list which puts him outside the slaves available for work in any other slave pen for steel makers. Vulgarly, they are blacklisted.
Men of much experience and capable of accurate observation say there is probably only one other steel plant in the United States that compares with the Jones & Laughlin mills and that is the Bethlehem plant of Charles M. Schwab. Bethlehem is the only place in this country that is worse, if, indeed, it is any worse. At the most, or at the least, there is not enough difference between them to make any material foundation for discussion.
Ordinary business has been demoralized in the sections of the South Side within the zones affected by the Oliver and Jones plants and is steadily being driven out. The medium of exchange is not money, but merchandise from the Jones & Laughlin store of the Pittsburg Mercantile company. The usual retail business that is so large a part of every industrial community is literally standing on its head. Cash is almost a curiosity, it is seen so seldom. This is the result of contact with the second stage of the slavery system of the Jones plant--the "Pluck Me" store under the name of the Pittsburg Mercantile company.
The Jones slave who must have cash to get medicine for a sick wife or child, or to pay his gas bill or get his hair cut and his face shaved, goes to the "Pluck Me" store, buys, say, a ham, for which he is charged $2.65. This he takes to a grocery store, a saloon or some other place until he finds a buyer for say $1 or $1.25. If he happens to need more than that, to pay, say, a gas bill, he buys enough merchandise to bring him the needed sum when its value is discounted in cash at a rate of 30 to 40 per cent.
Gets Goods Not Cash
For instance, a man wants merely a few cents. He goes to the "Pluck Me" store, operated against the laws of the state, and buys a box of tobies for $1.45, which he disposes of for $1.05 for $1.10 in cash. This is peddled by the buyer, who sells the box for $1.20 to someone who would otherwise have to pay $1.30. Once the system begins to work upon a man's wages it is an endless chain that twists him up in its cruel links until he becomes so hardened that he frequently is transformed into a careless, reckless and even desperate man. He is a hopeless slave.
The black slave of the south would never miss a chance to run away from his master. The while slave of the Jones plant lives in deadly, trembling fear that his master may decide to give him his "freedom" any day. He doesn't dare to get away.
The English speaking mill worker has almost disappeared. The non-English speaking man, principally from southern Europe, has taken his place. The English speaking man wants a little more on which to live; he is what the slave owner calls finicky, and he may belong to some labor organization or want to belong to one. The non-English speaking slave wants oh so little to keep him alive, and he doesn't belong to any labor organization and he doesn't want to join any. So, all around, the cheaper, non-union peasant from southern Europe is a much better slave than the American, Irishman, Englishman, Welshman or German. Much better. When a slave is both low in cost of maintenance and perfectly safe he is much more desirable. That's why perhaps 85 per cent of all the Jones slaves are non-English speaking.
As the retail business lines decline and disappear the economic change becomes pronounced in that direction. Business houses are vacant. The standard of living is at the lowest point of civilization. As the English speaking slave is driven out the horde of non-English speaking slaves comes in. Dwellings are vacated by the one, but not taken up by the other. Idle houses are all about. Rents decline. Values shrink. Real estate becomes a burden. It can't be sold and it can't be rented.
The careers of the Olivers and the Joneses are responsible for a loss of 60 per cent of the former value of real estate within certain areas.
This shrinkage in values has made the South Side not only the cheapest spot in Pittsburg, but the cheapest spot in the United States, and probably in the world. The inner center of the greatest workshop of the universe, the shop of shops, has been degraded by its very industry into the cheapest city spot in the country. It is just a huge labor camp.
While the wealth has piled upon on one end of the South Side, it has depressed human life, business activity and property investments on the other. The toiling wage workers, victims of the capitalist industrial system, have given their flesh and blood, and the bones and tissues of their children, born and unborn, for material to coin more wealth and more wealth. Struggle as they would against the steady movement of the slave system these toil hardened men, women and children, found that the harder and longer they worked the less they had. The more they earned the less they were paid. They simply got old faster.
They found that wealth that was running, flowing in a broad, glittering stream of gold to one part of the South Side, was what had been diverted from the other part--that part where dwell the wage workers. Their little homes, their little properties, losts, stores and whatever it happened to be, had been tapped, and the millions that were flowing in a rushing stream into the possessions of the Joneses and the Olivers, were just the meeting at a common point of thousands of little streams that tapped that part of the South Side where the wage workers live.
It was as if their section had been overrun by a swarm of military vandals with the trail of ruins that such an invasion always leaves. This strange overpowering capitalist industrial army had not only forced its way in and captured spoils what the people held in their possession, but the robber horde pitched its camp right on the ground to stay there until some stronger force shall drive it out.
THE WAGE WORKER HAD IT BORNE IN UPON HIM THAT HE WAS SIMPLY BEING PAID LESS OF WHAT HE EARNED TO LET GO OF WHAT HE DIDN'T GET.
Earnings grew larger and larger, and wages steadily grew smaller and smaller. The bigger and broader the one great stream grew at one end of the South Side, the smaller and smaller grew the little streams at the other. They were drained to feed the big one.
The wage worker soon saw that while he earned more he got less in return and he was compelled to eat less and wear less, and give up recreation and education altogether. What happened was simply an intensification of the system that the wage worker thought he knew so well. The wage worker had just been trained to a greater efficiency to keep pace with the greater capacity of the massive machinery of which he was the only part that had no real value.
Slavery had been established. Now it became improved, refined. Costs were cut down. The slaves were forced to readjust themselves to the improved, refined conditions of their slavery. They had no more choice than other slaves have had. The only alternative to clinging to their masters and their slavery was to die. They could stay within the labor camp's slave pen or they could go out and die. This is their position today.
They go into the great steel mills, they work from week end to week end, but they get no money. They eat a little, and that little is supplied by the slave owner's store. The little cheap stuff they wear comes, also, from the store of the slave owner. When pay day arrives the slave finds that his credits at the slave owner's store have equaled or exceeded the value of his wages and of course there is no money for him.
The slave knows that the law requires the Jones & Laughlin Steel company to pays its slaves, but what's the law among corporations? What slave would ask for money and be turned out of the big labor camp's slave pen by his kind master? Therefore, the slave owner just takes the slave's money, pays his credits at the slave owner's "Pluck Me" store, and has an empty envelope to hand the slave if he chooses to go to the paymaster's window to get it.
The slave gets no chance to pay his own bills as a free American does. If there is anything left after the slave owner has deducted his "Pluck Me" store credits from his share of the earnings in the labor camp's slave pen, the slave gets it. It may be one cent, or 15 cents, or, perhaps, even so much as 75 cents. Whatever it is, he gets it--but he never gets his wages, the wages the law requires the Jones & Laughlin Steel company to pay him.
Just Work and Work
Thus thousands pass their lives, dreary stretches of toil, spotted now and then with periods of helplessness from accidents in the slave pen, or just made ill by excessive strain, worry, overwork and under-rest. They work and they work. They slave and they slave, and they take what the slave owner's paymaster hands out to them at intervals.
What do they want with money? the slave owner asks. They can go to "The Store" and get anything they want without money--that is, they can if they are working. When pay day comes we take it out of his wages, and if there's anything left we give it to him. If there isn't, we don"t.
BUT WHEN A MAN IS HURT, OR IS ILL, HIS CREDIT STOPS. THE SLAVE OWNER IS UP ON THE LAW, WHICH SAYS IF A MAN DOESN'T WORK HE SHALL NOT EAT. SO THE MAN WHO DOESN'T WORK BECAUSE HE IS HELPLESS ON HIS BACK FROM ACCIDENT, OR ILLNESS, SHALL NOT EAT. THE SLAVE OWNER INCLUDES THE SLAVE'S FAMILY, TOO. HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN SHALL NOT EAT, EITHER. THE FAMILIES OF MEN SUFFERING FROM INJURY IN THE SLAVE PEN OF THE BIG LABOR CAMP HAVE BEEN REFUSED FOOD AT THE "PLUCK ME" STORE OF THE JONES & LAUGHLIN STEEL COMPANY UNDER THE NAME OF THE PITTSBURG MERCANTILE COMPANY!
Thus this $80,000,000 has been directed in a broad, bright, golden stream into the pockets of B. F. Jones. The little that gets away from him is the little that goes to pay the rent, occasionally, of the man who does not happen to live in a Jones & Laughlin steel company house.
The Jones & Laughlin steel company simply shifts the money its slaves have earned from one hand to another, and then declares the slaves have been paid. But the money never leaves the clutches of the Jones & Laughlin steel company. It is just transferred from the right hand to the left. It never leaves the grasp of those fingers.
To Be Continued Tomorrow
Second Article Appears Tomorrow
The second article in this series will appear in tomorrow's Leader. It will go into detail on a number of points of vital importance to every person in this vicinity. The articles will appear regularly from day to day. Don't miss the Leader.
Transcribed by bc and pd.