Fifty years ago, to the day, Wednesday, Oct 5, 1955 after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract between the Perfect Circle and the United Auto workers Union Local #370 the union employees went on strike July 25 and things were fairly calm at the picket line until the evening of Wednesday, October 5th when the plant personnel and non-union employees inside the plant, thinking they were about to be overrun by the strikers, opened fire on the picket line, wounding nine people. Thankfully no one was killed. The Mayor contacted the governor's office and the Governor of the State placed the city of New Castle under martial law. All roads leading into the city were blockaded by National Guard troops with tanks, weapons bearing half-tracks and fixed bayonets. After setting up checkpoints, began checking all vehicles coming into the city for weapons. Curfews were set. No one was permitted on the streets of New Castle unless on official business and/or possessing a pass that was issued by the National Guard. The city was declared a "dry" city, meaning no alcohol was to be sold or offered for sale either by the drink or bottle. All social events were cancelled for the duration.
The Perfect Circle strike began July 25, 1955. There had been some very minor violence. That is until the first week in October. The company had fired thirty-five strikers earlier in the week for picket line violations. The firings apparently sent a spark throughout the UAW-CIO ranks in the entire state of Indiana. An estimated 3,000 demonstrators massed before the foundry Wednesday and marched on some 100 non-strikers inside the plant.
The company had stocked the plant with firearms in what it called a perfectly legal defensive measure taken with full knowledge of law enforcement authorities.
Perfect Circle officials did not deny that the first shots came from within the plant. Nor did the UAW here deny that the demonstrators answered the gunfire with weapons of their own.
Mayor McCormack brought both sides to the conference table that Thursday for the first time in more than a month. He opened the daylong session in a outwardly confident mood, but by late afternoon he looked haggard and despondent as he watched the union delegation march out of the conference room.
In a final bitter declaration to the company the union official said; "We are of the belief that you are putting production ahead of the human element and human lives.
However, the company replied its non-strikers had not callously fired upon the massed demonstrators that Wednesday.
"What did you expect those people to do," demanded the company attorney, "Lie down and be slaughtered? They thought they were protecting their own lives. We were attacked, we were besieged and don't think that mob out there wasn't angry and eager to get in and pull or people out and damage the plant."
The company conceded it had stocked the plant with arms. But it said it had placed them with responsible supervisory employees as a purely defensive measure and that they had no inkling that the non-striking employees would be bringing their own weapons to work with them. Privately a company official said a similar stock of arms was inside the Hagerstown plant. But there had been no disorder there and that plant had continued to operate despite a token picket line.