In the 1910s, Colorado, a booming mining area of the USA, competed for the top position in its league with 1700 deaths in 27 years, but had not quite made it yet. The Coal and Iron Police gave no respite to the workers, who represented 25 different nations.
Workers who didn't speak each others’ tongue were put on the same shift, but divided according to origin with lodging. For a dollar paid to the state, companies could add gunmen to the armed forces of the free market.
Workers had to live in company lodgings. The rent was deducted from their pay. They had to shop from the company store. Purchases were deducted from their salaries. In practice, the company never gave them any cash. Instead of being paid real money, they used tokens only valid at the company store.
Lamont W. Bowers, regional boss of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company of Rockefeller, was a fine fellow, who expressed his opinion thus: “The solution is to send union organizers to jail, and reformist industrialists to the looney bin.”
Despite all this the union organized in the area and the miners went on strike.
Rockefeller’s company kicked the workers out of their lodgings. So they set up campsites with union tents and went on strike.
Their demands were indicative of their condition. Miners were paid according to the amount of coal they mined. What they did to get to the coal and ensure their safety wasn't reimbursed. The union not only fought this, but also demanded an eight-hour working day. The miners called for a representative to control the scales since the company also undercut their wages with rigged weighing. Workers insisted on their own doctors and accommodations; they rejected the company store monopoly.
The bosses thought this emerging picture didn't suit the free market world, and developed persuasive methods to get the miners back to work: Flooding the camps with giant spotlights at night and raking the tents with intermittent gun fire.
Now in the 20th century, the age of specialization, private detectives from the Baldwin-Felts company, adept at hunting down organizers and workers and breaking strikes were brought in.
Humanity invented the wheel, and left the Iron Age long behind. Guardians of the free market built a custom armoured vehicle with machine-gun slots. They called it the “Death Special”… We could not have expected them to call it “Greased Lightning”, could we?.. Wonder what the ad for this car would be like?!
The free market couldn't be sustained by fear alone, so the mayor called in the national guard.
General Chase, their commander, was an experienced strike breaker. He declared martial law, arrested the workers en masse, tortured them, unleashed the cavalry on protesting women. He arrested Mother Jones.
The guard forcibly dismantled Forbes tent city. Worker families couldn't resist. Obviously not the same Forbes as the business magazine that publishes stuff like the ‘wealthiest 500' list.
Woody Guthrie's inspiration for the song now playing came from the attack on the 200-tent strong Ludlow camp, where 1200 mostly Greek miners and their families were raked with machine gun fire and then their tents set ablaze on 20 April 1914.
Two women and 11 children perished as a result of smoke asphyxiation while hiding in the pits below, dug for protection from gunfire. 20 workers died.
Karl Linderfeldt, a National Guard commander, detained Greek labour leader Louis Tikas and two miners, and probably, in a barn, knocked them down and shot them in the back.
The survivors took refuge in the nearby town of Trinidad and buried Tikas and his companions there.
The workers, far from giving up, took up arms and moved into action. For 10 days, they destroyed mines and fought the milita. Federal troops quelled the clashes but the strike kept on for another seven months.
The Ludlow massacre caused a national outcry. Newspapers highlighted the incident for days. Even The Wall Street Journal criticized it.
Big boss John D. Rockefeller became a hate figure.
This monument is what remains today from the Ludlow massacre. On the web site where I found its picture, the photographer had added: “About an event not included in our history books…”
This stone lies just outside Ludlow. It too commemorates something not included in the history books. A memorial to the 121 victims of an explosion at the Hastings mine in April 1917.
Let us now hear it from The Nighthawks: Sixteen Tons
And the legendary Woody Guthrie! This section features the song he wrote in memory of the Ludlow Massacre. Guthrie is one of the “fathers” of protest music in the 20th century. Many musicians call him their “mentor”. He performed with Pete Seeger. His guitar featured the slogan, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
During the 28 years from 1884 to 1912, 42,898 miners died in mining accidents in the US. In Huerfano County, Colorado, where 1,708 miners died, juries elected by Sheriff Jefferson Farr adjudged that the mine owner was at fault in only one of the 95 accidents. You won’t come across sheriffs elected by mine bosses, or juries elected by those sheriffs, or armed men assembled with money paid by the bosses in free market theories. But you came across them almost everywhere in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the United States.
In May 1920, T.L. Felts’s two brothers, Albert and Lee, went to Matewan to evict striking miners from company lodgings, where they were shot and killed by town sheriff Sid Hatfield who had taken side with the miners. The pitcher will go to the well once too often, as they say… Five other professional killers died in the shootout. A miner, and a young bystander also died. The incident went down in history as the “Battle of Matewan”, or the “Matewan Massacre”.
Sheriff Don Chafin was the bosses’ man in Logan County, and he had begun to organize armed militia against the miners. The miners wore red bandanas around their necks, and Chafin’s men wore white armbands to distinguish themselves. The militia held Blair Mountain, and the miners could not pass. Eventually, martial law was declared, federal troops arrived, and the miners surrendered their weapons. Union organization declined in the region in the aftermath of the “Battle of Blair Mountain”. Three years later, Sheriff Don Chafin was imprisoned for moonshining. After his release, he became a leading Democrat politician in West Virginia. Naturally, he was a lobbyist for the bosses of the coal industry.