Bethlehem labor martyr remembered
Pierce and East Third streets in South Bethlehem is the site of a 102-year-old homicide. Today, the intersection is bordered by parking lots and the National Museum of Industrial History. But on Feb. 26, 1910, thousands of angry Bethlehem Steel strikers, upset about 12-hour days and 12-cent per hour wages, rioted at that site. Despite local police and hundreds of deputy sheriffs, Southside Bethlehem descended into chaos. Twenty-five state troopers from Philadelphia were requested and greeted with rocks and bottles when they arrived.
Trooper John Moughan, on horseback, fired when he thought he saw someone pull out a revolver. His bullet struck an unarmed Joseph Szambo, a striker who was inside the then Majestic Hotel during the melee. Szambo was enjoying a beer, but it would be his last.
Hours after his death, his wife gave birth.
Trooper Moughan was charged with homicide, but the district attorney dropped the charges.
Szambo's death was commemorated Sept. 1 with a memorial marker made possible by the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission, Lehigh Valley Labor Council and Pa. Labor History Society. It is one of 30 historical markers in Bethlehem, and one of more than 2,000 throughout the state. It is the only one in the Lehigh Valley that recognizes the labor movement.
Rick Bloomingdale, Pennsylvania's AFL-CIO president, told a group of about 40 people that the 1910 Bethlehem Steel strike was not about higher wages, but for a "right to have a say on the job." He argued that judicial decisions, both then and today, are slanted in favor of big corporations. He claimed that before unions, there really was no middle class or single-family homes
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan observed that many people like to point out that the Golden Gate Bridge and Manhattan skyline were made possible by Bethlehem Steel.
"It wasn't the steel that built it, but the people who worked there," he said.
According to the mayor, Szambo's death is significant because "the seeds of the labor movement in this country were sewn right here in this corner."
Callahan, pointing to recent situations at Amazon in Lehigh County, cautioned that working conditions will always be a struggle, and one that people should remember when they vote in November.
Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, along with Congressional candidate Rick Daugherty, were in the audience.
After the marker was unveiled, Frank Behum, president of the Steelworkers' Archives, led everyone in a few union songs. When he finished, he looked up at Szambo's plaque and said, "May he rest in peace."
The plaque reads: "In February, 1910, over 9,000 steel-workers went on strike over wages, overtime, and work conditions. A striker was shot and killed here during hostilities that ensued. The subsequent federal investigation substantiated workers' claims and contributed to industry reforms."