The days of the Bethlehem Steel plant in Buffalo (Lackawanna) are but a distant memory – especially to a new generation of Buffalonians that will never know what it was like to travel along the waterfront, seeing the hulking industrial steel buildings, the pollution, and the smell… then there was the discoloration of downtown buildings.
Personally, I’ll take the current booming medical industry in Buffalo over the steel industry any day, especially considering that the Medical Campus now boasts 16,000 employees, volunteers, students, and residents. At its peak in 1965, Bethlehem Steel employed approximately 20,000 workers in Lackawanna. Talk about shifting economies!
To get a true sense of what it might have been like during that time, for workers who were on the hook to work long grueling days at the Bethlehem site, Eugene V. Debs Local Initiative and Buffalo Bike Tours are partnering up to host a rather unusual and insightful bike tour of Lackawanna sites of the Great Steel Strike of 1919. This will be a great tour for those who were living in Buffalo around the time when the Lackawanna plant shuttered its doors in 1985 (or before). It was also be a real eye opener for a new generation of Buffalonians that has only heard the stories.
The Eugene V. Debs Local Initiative, started by urbanist Chris Hawley in 2018, is a project to document and honor Buffalo’s radical labor movement history.
“The Great Steel Strike of 1919, the largest labor walk-out in U.S. history, is a profound local and national flashpoint for the American labor movement,” says Chris Hawley of the Eugene V. Debs Local Initiative. “This bike march will visit all the hotspots of the great strike, starting with the Lackawanna Steel Company plant itself and ending where labor martyr Casimer Mazurek, decorated World War veteran and steel worker killed by company police, is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.”
While the strike was not successful at the time, it is hard to deny that there was a ripple effect that led to changing labor laws down the road. It is important that this strike is remembered, not just in history books, but in real life. That’s why this tour is so instrumental – to recognize those who stood up to the big bosses that were only concerned with the bottom line. It is duly noted that the worker demands for an eight hour workday, and a six day work week, set the precedent for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee’s 1941 strike, which was ultimately successful.
Saturday, September 21 marks the 100 year anniversary of the calling of the strike.
“Much company violence was used in the Lackawanna strike,” wrote William Z. Foster, national strike organizer, in his The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons in 1920. “The New York State Constabulary and the company guards, of a cut with their odious Pennsylvania brethren, slugged, shot, and jailed men and women in real Steel Trust style. Many strikers were injured, and two killed outright. One of these, Joseph [Casimer] Mazurek, a native-born American, was freshly back from the fighting in France. Lackawanna was just a little bit of an industrial hell.”
For those looking to gain valuable insight into the labor conditions, the strikes, the controversies, and how Buffalo played such a significant part in protecting workers’ rights, there is no better way to get a handle on this than by touring the site – where it all went down – with Buffalo Bike Tours.
Each bike tour participant will receive a free Remember Casimer Mazurek pin.
“Buffalo Bike Tours is committed to telling Buffalo’s story – especially its non-mainstream narratives,” said Marc Moscato of Buffalo Bike Tours. “We hope that this centennial ride commemorating the Lackawanna strike and Mazurek’s sacrifice will grow awareness of the labor movement’s contributions to building Buffalo and America.”
Strike! Bike Tour of the Great Steel Strike of 1919
The Eugene V. Debs Local Initiative and Buffalo Bike Tours
Saturday, September 21, 2019
4 to 7 pm
Buffalo Bike Tours Canalside Kiosk | 130 Main Street
The tour will depart from Buffalo Bike Tours’ Canalside Kiosk at 4 pm. The estimated three hour tour will conclude with an optional dinner at Curly’s, 647 Ridge Road. In lieu of dinner, cyclists will have the option to bike back to Canalside via Ridge Road or South Park Avenue on their own.
The $15 suggested donation will go toward Buffalo Bike Tours’ efforts to expand its fleet of GObike Buffalo-assembled tour bikes, with an emphasis on securing women’s and kids’ bikes.
Photo courtesy Eugene V. Debs Local Initiative and Buffalo Bike Tours