Tag Archives: United Mine Workers of America

Pueblo museum excises Mine Workers Union from Ludlow Massacre exhibit!


PUEBLO, COLORADO- 2014 marks one hundred years since the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. A variety of commemorations are planned before the formal anniversary on April 20. I attended one such event on Wednesday, a lecture by a CSU professor to footnote the “Children of Ludlow” exhibit at El Pueblo History Museum. I’m always excitied when attention is paid to Ludlow, a subject regularly left out of American schoolbooks, but I was disappointed to find key elements of labor history excised from the museum’s narrative. Literally. The United Mine Workers of America, the organization central to the strike, which supplied the tent city, and which even today maintains the memorial site, was mentioned only once, IN FINE PRINT! The Ludlow miners voted to strike because the mining companies refused to recognize the UMWA. Unmentioned. The horrors of the atrocity were not tempered, in their explicitness perhaps we think them enough, but there was also the apologist suggestion that some culpability belonged to the miners. I questioned one curator who admitted they were at pains to keep the story “balanced” and that the squeakiest wheel thus far has been the National Guard. Apparently the Guard is offended that its role will be misconstrued. What balance do they want, I wondered. Had they lost children in the “battlezone” too?

Children are at the heart of commemorating Ludlow and at the heart of this preversion of the massacre’s memory. Were they recklessly endangered by their parents and union organizers? Were they dragged into a battlezone? The museum seems to suggest as much, highlighting the beligerence of the miners, mischaracterizing the soldiers, and leaving the union actions largely unexplained.

First I’d like to declare how I tire of the objective irrelevance which results when academics seek the approval of government technocrats. I am also disturbed by educators who pretend blindness to subtle inferences which shape a political takeaway. To them, “remembering” Ludlow seems sufficient in itself. I can hardly see the point to remembering Ludlow unless we have discerned its lessons. Until we are remembering the LESSONS OF LUDLOW, our educators’ self-proclaimed raison d’etre will be self-fulfilling: “history will repeat itself.” This Pueblo exhibit suggests no lesson other than the exploitation of tragedy, and leaves me fearful about the Ludlow commemorations to follow. The anti-union, pro-military climate which prevails these hundred years since the massacre will make for a travesty of a remembrance unless someone with a worker’s perspective speaks up.

NOT BROUGHT TO YOU BY…
Let’s start with this exhibit, which alas has already escaped critique since September. Its full title, as evidenced in the photo above: “Black Hills Energy presents: Children of Ludlow, Life in a Battlezone, 1913-1914.”

I’ll bet curators thought it a measure of truth and reconciliation that the Ludlow presentation was sponsored by a local extraction industry business. Black Hills Energy trades not in coal but natural gas. In fact they’re among the frackers tearing up Southeastern Colorado. I think the irony more likely suggests how the UMWA’s starring role was left on the cutting room floor. There are generic mentions of “the union”, as at right, keeping a ledger of which families were assigned tents, but only in the fine print is the UMWA named as owning the ledger.

BATTLEZONES
More troubling is the skewed framing of the museum’s narrative. It begins with the subtitle, “life in a battlezone.” That’s taking a rather curious liberty don’t you think? The event we accept now as “Ludlow” became a battlezone on April 20, and the regional Coal Field War which followed was a battlezone to which both revenge-seekers and militia thronged, but the tent colonies in which 12,000 lived, 9,000 of whom were the children of the title role, were camps full of families. That they were straffed regularly by the guards makes them shooting galleries not battlegrounds.

Calling Ludlow a battlezone is like calling Sand Creek a “collision” or calling the Middle East a “conflict”. All of these mask the role of the aggressor.

I will credit the curators for offering a candid detail of horrific import. In a description of the day before the massacre, when the Greeks among the immigrants were celebrating Greek Easter, mention is made of the mounted National Guards offered this taunt: “You enjoy your roast today; we will have ours tomorrow.” No one should deny today that the events of April 20, which culminated in the torching of the tents and asphyxiation of women and children, was a premeditated act.

THE CHILDREN
Should the miners have put their children in harm’s way by defying the mining companies? How could they not? As immigrants they didn’t have nearby relatives to foster their children away from the random bullets. Also left unsaid by the display: many of the children had already been working in the mines and counted among those on strike. This was before child labor reforms.

Curiously, the exhibit did include a famous photograph of the notorious activist Mother Jones leading a childrens’ march through Trinidad. The caption explained that Jones wasn’t above using real children to advance the cause of Colorado’s coal miners.” Emphasis mine. While technically true in a modern context, it’s probably disingenuous to imply someone is using the children when a key issue of the demonstration is CHILD LABOR.

No really. Mother Jones was leading a march of children, many of them workers of the mines, for the reform of labor practices which abused children. This and subsequent campaigns eventually led to child labor laws. Is saying “Mother Jones wasn’t above using children” in any way an accurate characterization?

Compounding the inference that the Children of Ludlow were jeopardized for the cause, was the implication that the miners were combatants who contributed to the battlezone. As the displays progressed in chronological order, the first weapon on display was a rifle used by the miners. Immediately behind it was an enlarged photograph vividly depicting miners posed with two identical specimens.

Moving along the exhibit chronologically, anticipating the rising violence, the museum goers is apparently supposed to register that the strikers were firing too, if not first. Recent historical accounts have deliberated about who fired first. I think the motive is suspiciously revisionist in view of today’s dogma of nonviolence absolutism: if your protest devolves into violence, you deserve every bit of the beating you get.

Whenever it was that the miners began firing, the single militia and three guard casualties were not recorded until after the massacre took place, belying the narrative that the miners invited the massacre. Witnesses conflict about when the three union leaders were executed. I’ll give the museum credit for defying the National Guard in summarizing that among the casualties, three of the miners were “executed”.

PARITY OF WEAPONS
Students of the Ludlow accounts know that many of the miners were better riflemen than the soldiers. Many were immigrants who’d served in Bulkan wars and outmatched Colorado’s green guardsmen. That is not to suggest that the miners and their harrassers were equally armed, yet…

The only other weapon on display is a rifle of vintage used by the national guard. It shares a case with a uniform and sabre, lending it official authority. Also, the rifle is not presented as having been used at Ludlow, so it doesn’t project an aura of culpability. Missing is the machine gun depicted in the photograph of the machine gun nest which fired down upon the camp. It’s depicted with a caption about the Guard being a welcome presence. Missing too is the armored car dubbed the “Death Special”. Obviously the armor protected its operators from being hit by striking-miner bullets as it drove through the canvas encampment, straffing the tents with its mounted machine gun.

HUMANIZING THE PERP
Right after the photo of armed miners was the display at right, with a very contrived bit of spin catering to today’s military families. Although the photo shows soldiers actively aiming their gun at the camp, the caption assures us that the “Ludlow families feel relief with the arrival of National Guard”. This supposition is based on the fact that when the soldiers first arrived they were serenaded with the “Battle Cry of Freedom” and greeted with American flags. Most of the miners being immigrants, they were eager to show their patriotism, but the conclusion drawn here is a terrible mendacity. The miners and union organizers knew full well the purpose of the National Guard. They knew the strikebreaking role it played in famous strikes of the past. The miners feted the soldiers hoping to sway them from their eventual task. Protesters of all eras hold out this hope every time they face riot police.

A following paragraph suggested that by the time the massacre was committed, most of the soldiers had been mustered out and replaced with militia members and company guards. This is slight of hand. After the official inquiry, which was prompted by the public outcry, twenty National Guard soldiers were court martialed. All were acquitted. Is the Guard wanting us to believe they were acquitted because they weren’t there?

This attempt to put a friendly face on the National Guard, coupled with an abdication of effort to give the union its due, seems engineered to appeal to the average Pueblan of today, many probably related to an active-duty soldier and long since indoctrinated against evil unions. When I asked the lecturer about the omission of the UMWA, she prefaced her answer for the audience, explaining that unions of old were not like those despised today. I told her I thought failing to describe the hows and whys of the strike was a real teaching opportunity missed.

HISTORY COLORADO
It’s probably important to point out that the Ludlow presentation at the History Museum was developed with the assistance of History Colorado, which finally shuttered a contested display: a Sand Creek Massacre exhibit with a similar flavor of whitewash. Like labeling Ludlow a battlezone, History Colorado tried to typify Sand Creek as a “collision.”

Also typical of History Colorado is the propensity to address their exhibits to children. Programming for school bus visits invariably dumbs down what can be presented and I hardly think the compromise is worth it. If children ran the world, maybe Disney versions of history would suffice.

I’d like to have seen it highlighted that the Ludlow miners were mainly immigrants who were looked down upon by the residents of Colorado. If the museum audience were the “Children of Ludlow” in the extended sense, as a few descendants probably were, more of us were the children of the soldiers of Ludlow, or the citizens who cheered them on, or joined the militia or built the armored car at Rockefeller’s Pueblo factory. If we’re going to remember Ludlow, we ought to remember our role in it so we don’t do that again. It’s easy to pretend we were the martyrs. In all probability that’s who we will be if the lessons of Ludlow are discarded.

Mother Jones and the children of Ludlow

Mary Harris Jones and the children of miners 1914
APRIL 20 MARKS THE 95TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LUDLOW MASSACRE.
From her 1925 autobiography, Mother Jones wrote about the UMWA strike in Ludlow Colorado, over the harsh winter of 1914.

From Chapter 21:

No one listened. No one cared. The tickers in the offices of 26 Broadway sounded louder than the sobs of women and children. Men in the steam heated luxury of Broadway offices could not feel the stinging cold of Colorado hill-sides where families lived in tents.

Then came Ludlow and the nation heard. Little children roasted alive make a front page story. Dying by inches of starvation and exposure does not.

On the 19th of April, 1914, machine guns, used on the strikers in the Paint Creek strike, were placed in position above the tent colony of Ludlow. Major Pat Hamrock and Lieutenant K. E. Linderfelt were in charge of the militia, the majority of whom were, company gun-men sworn in as soldiers.

Early in the morning soldiers approached the colony with a demand from headquarters that Louis Tikas, leader of the Greeks, surrender two Italians. Tikas demanded a warrant for their arrest. They had none. Tikas refused to surrender them. The soldiers returned to quarters. A signal bomb was fired. Then another. Immediately the machine guns began spraying the flimsy tent colony, the only home the wretched families of the miners had, riddling it with bullets. Like iron rain, bullets’ upon men, women and children.

The women and children fled to the hills. Others tarried. The men defended their home with their guns. All day long the firing continued. Men fell dead, their faces to the ground. Women dropped. The little Snyder boy was shot through the head, trying to save his kitten. A child carrying water to his dying mother was killed.

By five o’clock in the afternoon, the miners had no more food, nor water, nor ammunition. They had to retreat with their wives and little ones into the hills. Louis Tikas was riddled with shots while he tried to lead women and children to safety. They perished with him.

Night came. A raw wind blew down the canyons where men, women and children shivered and wept. Then a blaze lighted the sky. The soldiers, drunk with blood and with the liquor they had looted from the saloon, set fire to the tents of Ludlow with oil-soaked torches. The tents, all the poor furnishings, the clothes and bedding of the miners’ families burned. Coils of barbed wire were stuffed into the well, the miners’ only water supply.

After it was over, the wretched people crept back to bury their dead. In a dugout under a burned tent, the charred bodies of eleven little children and two women were found-unrecognizable. Everything lay in ruins. The wires of bed springs writhed on the ground as if they, too, had tried to flee the horror. Oil and fire and guns had robbed men and women and children of their homes and slaughtered tiny babies and defenseless women. Done by order of Lieutenant Linderfelt, a savage, brutal executor of the will of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The strikers issued a general call to arms: Every able bodied man must shoulder a gun to protect himself and his family from assassins, from arson and plunder. From jungle days to our own so-named civilization, this is a man’s inherent right. To a man they armed, through-out the whole strike district. Ludlow went on burning in their hearts.

Everybody got busy. A delegation from Ludlow went to see President Wilson. Among them was Mrs. Petrucci whose three tiny babies were crisped to death in the black hole of Ludlow. She had something to say to her President.

Immediately he sent the United States cavalry to quell the gunmen. He studied the situation, and drew up proposals for a three-year truce, binding miner and operator. The operators scornfully refused.

A mass meeting was called in Denver. Lindsay spoke. He demanded that the operators be made to respect the laws of Colorado. That something be done immediately. The Denver Real Estate Exchange appointed a committee to spit on Judge Lindsey for his espousal of the cause of the miners.

Rockefeller got busy. Writers were hired to write pamphlets which were sent broadcast to every editor in the country, bulletins. In these leaflets, it was shown how perfectly happy was the life of the miner until the agitators came; how joyous he was with the company’s saloon,. the company’s pigstys for homes, the cornpany’s teachers and preachers and coroners. How the miners hated the state law of an eight-hour working day, begging to be allowed to work ten, twelve. How they hated the state law that they should have their own check weigh-man to see that they were not cheated at the tipple.

And all the while the mothers of the children who died in Ludlow were mourning their dead.

A Colorado coal mining family

Mother Jones: You Don’t Need a Vote

Mary Harris Jones portrait from her 1925 autobiographyAfter the 1914 Ludlow Massacre and the later capitulation of the UMWA union, Mother Jones, by now 85 years old, toured the US to spread the word about what happened. She wrote in her autobiography, about a meeting in Kansas City: “I told the great audience that packed the hall that when their coal glowed red in their fires, it was the blood of the workers, of men who went down into black holes to dig it, of women who suffered and endured, of little children who had but a brief childhood. ‘You are being warmed and made comfortable with human blood’ I said. … ‘The miners lost,’ I told them, because they had only the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end, bayonets always win.'”

From The Autobiography of Mother Jones, Chapter 22:
YOU DON’T NEED A VOTE TO RAISE HELL.

Five hundred women got up a dinner and asked me to speak. Most of the women were crazy about women suffrage. They thought that Kingdom-come would follow the enfranchisement of women.

“You must stand for free speech in the streets,” I told them.

“How can we,” piped a woman, “when we haven’t a vote?”

“I have never had a vote,” said I, “and I have raised hell all over this country! You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”

Some one meowed, “You’re an anti!”

“I am not an anti to anything which will bring freedom to my class,” said I. “But I am going to be honest with you sincere women who are working for votes for women. The women of Colorado have had the vote for two generations and the working men and women are in slavery. The state is in slavery, vassal to the Colorado Iron and Fuel Company and its subsidiary interests. A man who was present at a meeting of mine owners told me that when the trouble started in the mines, one operator proposed that women be disfranchised because here and there some woman had raised her voice in behalf of the miners. Another operator jumped to his feet and shouted, ‘For God’s sake! What are you talking about! If it had not been for the women’s vote the miners would have beaten us long ago!'”

Some of the women gasped with horror. One or two left the room. I told the women I did not believe in women’s rights nor in men’s rights but in human rights. “No matter what your fight,” I said, “don’t be ladylike! God Almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies. I have just fought through sixteen months of bitter warfare in Colorado. I have been up against armed mercenaries but this old woman, without a vote, and with nothing but a hatpin has scared them.

“Organized labor should organize its women along industrial lines. Politics is only the servant of industry. The plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.”

Some Colorado labor history

Labor day. It commemorates the likes of Samuel Gompers, Big Bob Haywood and Mother Jones and their efforts to unite working class peoples. They met great resistance from gullible populations of consumers and business owners who weren’t going to give anything unless they were forced.

Child labor laws, five day work weeks, eight hour days, overtime pay, work breaks, retirement, benefits, sick days, vacation days, we owe all these to the might of collective bargaining.

Today’s labor organizers are seen more as standing in the way of productivity. We think of union workers as lazy and greedy, corrupt and undeserving. How is it the labor unions have fallen so low in our sentiments? Probably because businesses have public relations budgets which advance the corporate view, and labor unions, well, do not.

Was this always so? Actually, yes.

The Gold Miner’s Strike, 1894
Colorado Springs citizens themselves figured prominently in an early and notorious labor conflict: the Cripple Creek Miner’s Strike of 1894. Miners united by the Western Federation of Miners were fighting for the three dollar, eight hour day. This was a high wage at the time, but the gold mining business was a veritable bonanza and mine owners were building huge homes on Wood Avenue, “Millionaire’s row.”

Up on the mountain the miners seized and shut down the mines. From their exclusive hang out, the El Paso Club, the mine owners complained about the evils of socialism and the populist leanings of the governor.

When underhanded attempts to dislodge the strikers failed, the mine owners, with the assistance of the Gazette, convinced the population of Colorado Springs to rise up in arms against the miners, lest the miners descend from the mountain and attack them. Twelve hundred men were deputized and led on a march to defeat the seven hundred miners. Luckily the 1,200-strong Colorado Springs volunteer posse was outwitted and the miners achieved their demands.

The struggle was long and bitter and makes an amusing story now. We can be happy that the miners prevailed but let us not today be mistaken about which side most of Colorado Springs was on.

Breaking the union, 1904
By 1904, miners had lost the eight hour day. The Mine Owner’s Association issued work permits only to miners who would renounce their union memberships. As the owners shipped in scab labor to substitute for the union holdouts, the conflict grew bloody. The state militia was called in to close the Victor Record, a newspaper sympathetic to the W. F. M. The union was silenced.

On June 6, 1904, a lunatic fighting on the side of the miners, but for motives of his own, blew up a train platform, killing 21 nonunion workers. Though it was not then established who had done it, the W. F. M. was immediately blamed and routed. 225 union miners, a number of whom had families in Cripple Creek, were boarded unto trains and deported from Teller County.

One group was sent to the Kansas border, marched across, and abandoned. The other was dropped off in a desolate part of New Mexico. All were threatened with dire consequences should they return. The mine owners responsible have names which any Colorado Springs resident can recognize today: Carlton, MacNeill, Penrose, and Tutt.

The Ludlow Massacre, 1914
Who hasn’t heard of the “Ludlow Massacre?” The Ludlow Massacre put Colorado on the map. Do you know what for?

In 1913, the coal miners of Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation in Trinidad were protesting against poor wages, unsafe conditions, and struggling with debt in towns owned entirely by their employer. Naturally when the workers went on strike they were immediately evicted from their shacks.

With help from the United Mine Workers Union the striking workers were able to set up tents in the nearby hills and continue their protest. The Rockefellers hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to snipe at them and fire into their camps with Gatling guns. The National Guard was brought in to further harass the striking workers, the justification given to the public being the interrupted supply of coal.

When the miners were able to keep up their strike through the harsh winter that year, the Rockefellers had the Governor of Colorado order an all out attack. The National Guard encircled the largest of the tent settlements at Ludlow, inhabited by approximately one thousand men, women and children, and commenced firing.

Thirteen people were killed in the shoot out before the soldiers set fire to the tents and forced the families to flee. After the fire, someone discovered eleven burned corpses, most of them children. They’d been hiding in a shelter dug to escape the incessant gunfire.

News of the “Ludlow Massacre” spread fast. Working class people came from the surrounding areas to avenge the massacre. Mine shafts were exploded, mine guards were shot, anarchy reigned in the hills, and this time President Wilson sent in the Federal troops.

In the end, 66 people were killed. Not a single mine operator or soldier was indicted of a crime. The press announced the attack on the union stronghold and the burning of the sheltered children to have been “a tactical blunder.”

Should such accounts be taught in our schools? The next time we’re told that a union’s demands are unreasonable, let’s remember to look who’s doing the telling.

(This article is reprinted from CRANK MAGAZINE, vol I, number 7)