Archive for February, 2009

Posted by: kokoro | 5th Feb, 2009

Zinn, Three Strikes, Colorado Coal Stike

The Zinnn reading discusses the Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-1914, a fourteen-month strike that included the infamous Ludlow Massacre.

In the 1870s large scale mining became popular in Colorado due to the railroad. Mining towns were known for their squalid living conditions and for the complete control the mining companies had over the lives of the workers. Colorado’s Fuel & Iron Company employed Welsh and English immigrants early on, and later an increasing amount of Southern European immigrants, as well as Mexicans and blacks.

Conflict arose between the mine owners and workers. In 1876 there was a failed strike. There was a successful strike in 1884 against wage reduction, and the 1894 strike for eight-hour workdays failed. The United Mine Workers of America was founded in 1890, and it made its way to Colorado in 1900. While the UMW led the 1913-14 strike, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party also influenced the strikers.

Tensions began building in 1913 as the miners started organizing and the mine owners began bringing in Baldwin-Felts agents. On 15 September the largest labor convention in Colorado history began, and the workers adopted a set of demands and voted unanimously to strike on 23 September. 11, 000 miners, 90% of the workforce, left company houses to tent camps set up by the union. The camp in Ludlow was the largest, and it included a meeting stage and a large tent that acted as a community center and a school. Few of the families in Ludlow were American; the camp was filled with 22 different languages.

Violence erupted immediately, though the strikers were outmatched. The newly created Department of Labor tried to mediate, but the C.F&I was not open to negotiation. The National Guard entered the scene because the governor under pressure from mine owners. The strikers assumed order would be restored, but the National Guard proved to be just as vicious as the mine guards and the Felts agents. Miners committed violence against company employees still on the job as a reaction to machine gun attacks on the tent colonies by Baldwin-Felts agents, the importation of strikebreakers, and the actions of the National Guard.

By spring, state funds were drying up, and as a result, the National Guard was recalled in April 1914. However, a group was left (made up of many former mine guards) overlooking the Ludlow tent colony. On 20 April, they opened fire on the tents, and later that day they set the tents on fire and shot at families as they tried to escape. Following the Ludlow Massacre, people responded from coast to coast in aid of the strikers. Thousands of dollars were sent for arms and ammunition, and other Colorado men marched to the Trinidad district to help.

There were calls for federal intervention, and upon the governor’s request, the federal government finally stepped in. The Secretary of War asked for the surrender of arms on both sides. The commander of the federal troops prohibited the importation of strikebreakers from other states, prohibited picketing, and protected the scabs. The fighting ended. The investigative committee drew up proposals, and acquitted the National Guard members, while the leader of the strike was convicted (though this was later overturned). On 10 December 1914 a UMW Convention officially ended the strike.

Posted by: kokoro | 3rd Feb, 2009

Babson, Chapter 2; Sinclair, The Jungle, Chapter 9

Babson discusses how union membership grew in the 1910s, where it took new forms to challenge the introduction of scientific management. During this period socialist politics rose into prominence as well as the progressive reform movement, labor unions became more board-based, and when America became involved in World War I, the government began to regulate production and protect union organization. However, following the end of the war unions lost ground with an economic recession, the Red Scare, and the backing of a business first agenda by courts and political conservatives.

Nonetheless, a legacy survived from the labor unions of the 1910s. This legacy includes a precedent for government regulation of the economy and protection of workers, experiments with a system of collective bargaining based on grievance arbitration, and broad-based industrial union organization that unifies (at least temporarily) diverse groups of workers that were once divided by occupation, ethnicity, and gender. These new forms of labor unions and tactics reached fulfillment during 1930s with the New Deal and with the war mobilization of the 1940s.

I haven’t read any of The Jungle prior to this reading, but I’ve learned about it in other history classes as a sort of turning point in food production. The book provided one of the first looks into meat packaging for the American public, and it’s no wonder they reacted with disgust.

This chapter describes the dangers of working in the meat factories. Every worker at each production point is described as having a particular disease or ailment. The picklers had acid eating at their fingers and could die by infection. Cutters’ hands were covered with cuts and they often lost the use of their thumbs. Cookers were constantly exposed to tuberculosis germs. Beef-luggers were worn out by their work in a few years. Chillers suffered from rheumatism. Wool-pluckers wore their hands to pieces. Tin makers cut their hands and were subject to blood poisoning. Stamping machine workers had hands cut off. Hoisters developed a stooping habit. No one would go near fertilizers because they smelled so bad. Those in the cooking rooms were exposed to constant steam and risked falling into open vats, leaving very little left of their bodies. Obviously, every job in the mass produced meat market was very dangerous.

The book also provides a glimpse into both city and packing politics, especially the extreme corruption. Leading politicians had control over everything in the city, from saloons to the police and fire departments. Elections are described to Jurgis as between a rival set of grafters, one of which gets into office by buying the most votes. The meat packers also hired inspectors themselves, not to check the safety of the meat, but rather to make sure diseased meat stayed in the city and state. Hush money was paid to keep people quite about the meat, and those who refused to stay quiet were fired.