Steel and the Soul of Capitalism

Mugshot of Gus Hall in Warren, Ohio, on July 1, 1937. (Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor)

Steel and the Soul of Capitalism

Opening episode 5 of Organize the Unorganized: The Rise of the CIO is a clip from a speech by Gus Hall, general secretary of the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) for over forty years. Before he ascended to the leadership of CPUSA, Hall was a communist labor organizer who engaged in militant disruptive tactics, and he was even charged with dynamiting eighty feet of railroad track between Warren and Niles, two steel company towns in Ohio, in June 1937.

This was but one of the many dramatic actions taken during the five-month Little Steel strike, the subject of this episode. It might appear excessive to devote an entire episode of the podcast to one strike, but Little Steel was in many ways a turning point in the story of the CIO. To capture it well requires delving into the more general history of steel organizing in America, a fantastically brutal affair that reveals the soul of American capitalism. Interviews with labor historian David Brody, author of a book on the steel strike of 1919, and law professor Ahmed White, author of The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America, feature prominently in this episode.

Further reading: