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Remembering the great steel strike of 1919

Mike Desmond

An old labor song from acoustic duo Meet the Bacons mixed with the mournful sound of "Taps" across Holy Cross Cemetery Monday. It was the 100th anniversary of immigrant and World War I veteran Casimer Mazurek being gunned down by Lackawanna Steel Company police.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
"Taps" is played in honor of Casimer Mazurek.

A century ago, Mazurek came back from brutal battles in the final months of World War I to start work at the Lackawanna Steel plant. As the strike by the 6,000 workers at what we today know as Bethlehem Steel began, strikers apparently started throwing stones at company cops.

The cops opened fire with revolvers, killing Mazurek. Maciez Buczkowski died two days later from his wounds. A three-year-old was also wounded.

There was never an investigation of the incident, leaving many details of what happened to memory.

Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski declared the day in Mazurek's memory.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski (center) declares the day in honor of Casimer Mazurek.

"On the first day of the strike, September 23, 1919, World War I American veteran, immigrant and steelworker Casimir Mazurek was shot by private steel plant security and was killed immediately," he read. "Maciecz Buczkowski was also shot by the same private security officers and died days later from complications of the gunshot."

Local history professor Alex Blair said the strike failed, but it set into momentum basic change.

"It was the first time there was a national strike against the most powerful industry in the United States," Blair said. "While the strike failed, it created memories of the possibility of having a union in the steel industry, which played out a generation later. They win between '37 and '42."

Memorial organizer Chris Hawley said strikers were protesting for better working conditions.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"In 1919, when the Lackawanna Steel Company employed some 6,000 workers, a typical steelworker worked 84 hours per week, 12 hours per day, seven days per week on wages barely sufficient to feed, clothe and house a family of five," said Hawley said. "The job was dangerous and often deadly, with few safety rules."

Mazurek was buried in Holy Cross and nearly forgotten, until Hawley began to research local labor history and found the overgrown grave. He revived the memories of Lackawanna's immigrant and labor history.

After Mazurek's death, his family broke up, although there is an elderly nephew. He could not attend the ceremony, but sent the flowers that stood next to his uncle's grave marker.