The Homestead Strike
1-2 class periods
10th Grade American Literature
Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Common Core Standards Addressed:
Writing Standards for English Language Arts 6-12
Lisa Roule (2006)
This song was written after the Homestead Strike of 1892, when steelworkers clashed with captains of the steel industry over working conditions in the mills. A movement to unionize labor forces was brought to a screeching halt when incomplete media coverage of the Battle of 1892 caused a public outcry against the workers’ treatment of the Pinkertons, and laborers brought in from the outside to maintain output in the mills during the workers’ strike.
This song captures the spirit of the workers, and communicates the deeply-held beliefs that men have a right to defend their livelihoods from the machinations of a “grasping corporation.” Additional information about the Homestead Strike is available at www.riversofsteel.com.
Using a variety of texts, students will examine the national labor movement at the end of the nineteenth century, focusing on worker motivation as well as local ramifications of the rise and fall of industry.
Song used in this lesson: "Song of a Strike" (George Swetnam, 1892)
Opening Activity – Free Write (5 mins)
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
**Teachers may also need to consider pre-teaching vocabulary on the following terms: syndicate, toil, indignation, recourse to arms, audacity, renounce, forswear**
Extending the Lesson
“Song of a Strike”
We are asking one another
as we pass the time of day
Why working men resort to arms
to get their proper pay,
And why our labor unions
they must not be recognized,
While the actions of a syndicate
must not be criticized.
Now the troubles down at Homestead
were brought about this way
When a grasping corporation
had the audacity to say:
"You must all renounce your union
and forswear your liberty,
And we'll give you a chance to live
and die in slavery."
Now the man that fights for honor,
none can blame him.
May luck attend wherever he may roam.
And no son of his will ever live
to shame him.
Whilst Liberty and Honor rule our Home.
Now this sturdy band of working men
started out at the break of day
Determination in their faces
which plainly meant to say:
"No one can come and take our homes
for which we have toiled so long
No one can come and take our places ---
no, here's where we belong!"
A woman with a rifle
saw her husband in the crowd,
She handed him the weapon
and they cheered her long and loud.
He kissed her and said, "Mary,
you go home till we're through."
She answered,"No. If you must die,
my place is here with you."
When a lot of tramp detectives
came without authority
Like thieves at night when decent men
were sleeping peacefully---
Can you wonder why all honest hearts
with indignation burn,
And why the slimy worm that treads the earth
when trod upon will turn?
When they locked out men at Homestead
so they were face to face
With a lot of bum detectives
and they knew it was their place
To protect their homes and families,
and this was neatly done
And the public will reward them
for the victories they won.
Copyright 2011-2012 Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System