History proves, without a doubt, that state-run militia and the National Guard can and will be used against it’s own people. The month of this year’s Labor Day marks the 102nd anniversary of the beginning of the coal worker’s strike that erupted in violence in November 1914, in what is known as the Ludlow Massacre.
When the strike began in September 1913 against the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, according to the University of Denver’s Colorado Coalfield War Archaeological Project, the United Mine Workers’ demands were:
1) Recognition of the United Mine Workers of America
2) A 10% wage increase
3) Enforcement of the 8 hour day
4) Payment for dead work
5) Right to elect checkweighmen
6) The right to trade in any store, board anywhere, and use any doctor
7) Enforcement of Colorado mining laws and abolishment of armed mine guards
These demands were about more than just higher wages. The union and the strikers wanted a change in both the labor and community relations found in the coal camps.
The conditions in the coal camps dramatically document the benefit of the the harsh reality that is unchecked capitalism. The towns were established and owned by the coal companies themselves, with simple shacks erected for housing for the workers.
According to Howard Zinn’s accounting, “When 11,000 miners in southern Colorado, mostly immigrant Greeks, Italians, Serbs were aroused by the murder of one of their organizers, they went on strike against the low pay, dangerous conditions, and feudal domination of their lives in towns completely controlled by the mining companies.
When the strike began, the miners were immediately evicted from their shacks in the mining towns. Aided by the United Mine Workers Union, they set up tents in the nearby hills and carried on the strike, the picketing, from these tent colonies.
The gunmen hired by the Rockefeller interests-the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency – using Gatling guns and rifles, raided the tent colonies. The death list of miners grew, but they hung on, drove back an armored train in a gun battle, and fought to keep out strikebreakers.
With the miners resisting, refusing to give in, the mines not able to operate, the Colorado governor (referred to by a Rockefeller mine manager as “our little cowboy governor”) called out the National Guard, with the Rockefellers supplying the Guard’s wages.
The miners at first thought the Guard was sent to protect them, and greeted its arrivals with flags and cheers. They soon found out the Guard was there to destroy the strike.
The Guard brought strikebreakers in under cover of night, not telling them there was a strike. Guardsmen beat miners, arrested them by the hundreds, rode down with their horses parades of women in the streets of Trinidad, the central town in the area. And still the miners refused to give in.
When they lasted through the cold winter of 1913-1914, it became clear that extraordinary measures would be needed to break the strike.
In April 1914, two National Guard companies were stationed in the hills overlooking the largest tent colony of strikers, the one at Ludlow, housing a thousand men, women, children. On the morning of April 20, a machine gun attack began on the tents. The miners fired back.
Their leader, a Greek named Lou Tikas, was lured up into the hills to discuss a truce, then shot to death by a company of National Guardsmen. The women and children dug pits beneath the tents to escape the gunfire.
At dusk, the Guard moved down from the hills with torches, set fire to the tents, and the families fled into the hills; thirteen people were killed by gunfire.The following day, a telephone linesman going through the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony lifted an iron cot covering a pit in one of the tents and found the charred, twisted bodies of eleven children and two women.”
Author Scott Martelle states in his book about the tragic conflict, “…the backlash was vicious and bloody. Over the next ten days striking miners and their supporters poured out their rage in attacks across the coalfields in “an armed and open rebellion against the authority of the state as represented by the militia. This rebellion constituted perhaps one of the nearest approaches to civil war and revolution ever known in this country in connection with an industrial conflict.”
The fighting continued, leaving at least 75 dead, until Rockefeller, once again using his capital and connections, convinced Woodrow Wilson to bring in the U.S. Army to end the strike, in a demonstration of German sociologist Max Weber’s definition of the state as holding a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force,” and even more so, Mussolini’s definition of corporatism – “…the merger of state and corporate power.”
Let us all remember the sacrifices of those who have fought and died to improve our working conditions, and remember as well that this is a matter of constant vigilance…
A People’s History of the United States; Zinn, Howard pp346-348
Blood Passion; Martelle, Scott