Semester

Spring

Date of Graduation

2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Type

PhD

College

Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Department

History

Committee Chair

Ken Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

James Siekmeier

Committee Member

Jason Kozlowski

Committee Member

William Gorby

Abstract

This dissertation charts the United Steelworkers of America’s (USWA) quest to win long term welfare security for its members from 1941 to 1960. The study focuses on external and internal events and issues that led the union to seek pensions and social insurance at the bargaining table in 1949, and ultimately, to enhance their private security at the bargaining table throughout the 1950s. Although labor’s ability to influence the passage of national health care was greatly curtailed by a rise in conservative politics during World War II and the immediate postwar era, issues beyond politics also played a role in the USWA’s decision to bargain for security in 1949. Chief among these issues was a postwar retiree crisis that began in 1946. In that year, steel companies such as Inland Steel and US Steel began to force retiree steelworkers who reach the age of 65 with little to no long-term economic security. The postwar retiree crisis thus ignited a swell of rank and file demands on union leaders to bargain for better forms of private insurance and to use the union’s bargaining power to end the arbitral and paternalistic nature of welfare capitalism. Consequently in 1949, after a significant strike, the USWA won a pension and social insurance program, which the union worked to expand and enhance throughout the 1950s. Although the union had used its bargaining power to secure one of the finest pensions and social insurance programs in American industry, private insurance programs were plagued by ever rising costs that ate into the wage gains of steelworkers. By 1960, after a two-year internal study of its pension and social insurance program, the USWA concluded that the indemnity (fee-for-service) insurance model was deficient and incapable of delivering the comprehensive and prepaid security the union demanded. Beyond the direct issue of welfare security, this study also sheds light on the internal union dynamics of the USWA in such a critical and influential era in American history. Moreover, the dissertation brings to light a more detailed portrayal and accounting of USWA President, Philip Murray, as he guided the union through World War II and the immediate postwar era.

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