US Workers Were Once Massacred Fighting for the Protections Being Rolled Back Today

  • submit to reddit
Ruins of the Ludlow camp in Colorado, 1914. (Image: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Ruins of the Ludlow camp in Colorado, 1914. (Image: Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Editor’s note: Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. For more information about this landmark event in US labor history, visit PBS’ “American Experience.”

On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard and a private militia employed by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I) opened fire on a tent camp of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colo. At least 19 people died in the camp that day, mostly women and children.

A century later, the bloody incident might seem a relic of the distant past, but the Ludlow Massacre retains a powerful, disturbing and growing relevance to the present. After a century of struggling against powerful interests to make American workplaces safer and corporations responsive to their employees, the US is rapidly returning to the conditions of rampant exploitation that contributed to Ludlow.

Conditions were deadly inside the mines. Flooded mines forced workers to toil in standing water. Hazardous gases filled the cramped spaces, and miners constantly inhaled bad air.
That’s especially true in mining, where a coordinated union-busting campaign, the corporate capture of federal regulatory agencies, and widespread environmental degradation leave coal miners unsafe and mining communities struggling to deal with the massive environmental impact of modern mining practices.

A century ago, miners led the fight for workers’ rights. The Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of great upheaval for the American working class. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had worked to organize the nation’s coal miners. Its success often hinged on whether the government helped mining companies crush strikes or protected workers. In 1897, deputies in Luzerne County, Pa., killed 19 striking miners in the Lattimer Massacre. But five years later, when Pennsylvania miners struck again, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened on their behalf, providing them with a partial victory. Roosevelt’s actions, while hardly indicative a new pro-labor federal government, reflected a growing belief that labor deserved a fair shake.

John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his father John D. Rockefeller in 1915.

John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his father John D. Rockefeller in 1915. (American Press Association, Library of Congress)

Colorado Fuel and Iron, part of John D. Rockefeller’s empire, was the largest coal company in the American West. Colorado had laws regulating mine safety, but CF&I ensured they remained unenforced. Workers weren’t paid for time spent traveling into or out of the mines, shoring up mine ceilings or fixing tools. CF&I brought in a polyglot group of laborers to these remote southern Colorado mines — Mexicans, Italians and Greeks dominated. They lived in company towns under the control and watchful eye of CF&I bosses.

Conditions were deadly inside the mines. Flooded mines forced workers to toil in standing water. Hazardous gases filled the cramped spaces, and miners constantly inhaled bad air. They relied on animals to warn them when the gases turned deadly. Explosions were frequent, and carbon monoxide seeping through mines felled workers after the blasts. Coal dust coated miners’ lungs and gave them what is today known as pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. All of these problems made for short, danger-filled lives. In 1909, 259 coal miners died at the Cherry Mine Fire in Illinois.

Colorado coal miners first struck in 1894, led by the UMWA. Over the next 20 years, workers fought often bloody battles for better pay and working conditions. In 1913, the miners demanded an eight-hour day, the right to choose their own homes and doctors, a pay raise, and the enforcement of existing mine safety laws. The union presented these and other demands to CF&I. The company rejected them out of hand and the miners went on strike.

Colorado coal miners first struck in 1894, led by the UMWA. Over the next 20 years, workers fought often bloody battles for better pay and working conditions.
The company kicked strikers out of company housing, but the union had anticipated this and leased land to build tent towns. CF&I then hired the notorious union busting detective agency Baldwin-Felts to harass and terrify the strikers. Baldwin-Felts snipers shot into the camps and drove an armored car mounted with a machine gun around the tent town. On October 28, Colorado governor Elias Ammons called in the National Guard to “restore order” and for the rest of the winter, strikers faced violent harassment from Guardsmen.

But by the spring, the state had run out of money to fund the National Guard’s presence. So, leaving two Guard units in Ludlow as support, Colorado pulled out but gave CF&I permission to fund its own security forces.

On the morning of April 20, the Monday after Easter, the security forces lured strike leader Louis Tikas out of camp. One of the Guard commanders, Karl Linderfelt, promptly broke a rifle butt on Tikas’ head, then the Guardsmen shot him in the back, killing him. The CF&I militia opened fire on the camp, sparking a day-long battle. Finally, the militia set the camp on fire, killing 15 women and children hiding in cellars built for protection against gunfire. It was the death of these 15 innocents that led to the term, “Ludlow Massacre.”

The strikers didn’t meekly return to work. A 10-day guerilla war ensued, resulting in 75 to 100 deaths. Strikers destroyed mine buildings and tunnels and blew up the dam providing water for the Ludlow mines. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson sent in the US Army to end the hostilities. Unlike previous examples of federal intervention in strikes, Wilson ordered that the Army remain neutral, and soldiers arrested several members of the company’s private militia. Nevertheless, by December, the UMWA had run out of funds and the strike ended in a total defeat.

The Ludlow Massacre was a public relations disaster for Rockefeller. He was vilified in the press for the killing of women and children. The US Commission on Industrial Relations savaged the mining company in their report on the massacre, calling Rockefeller’s representative in Colorado, L.M. Bowers, “bitter and prejudiced in the extreme, with an adherence to the individualistic economic doctrines of a century ago that was almost grotesque in its intensity.”

To limit the public relations damage, Rockefeller created a company union that allowed workers to present their grievances to management, but it was a sham; the workers had no power in the bogus union.

John L. Lewis, chairman of the Congress of Industrial Organizations signs autographs just like any movie star for his admirers at the CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, Nov. 16, 1938. (AP Photo)

John L. Lewis, chairman of the Congress of Industrial Organizations signs autographs just like any movie star for his admirers at the CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, Nov. 16, 1938. (AP Photo)

But Ludlow and other acts of violence against labor unions helped convince Americans of the need for real reform. Over the next several decades, conditions for all American workers improved dramatically. United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis created the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s, leading to the unionization of millions of industrial workers. New Deal legislation forced companies to negotiate with their workers in good faith. In the 1960s, rank and file mineworkers, angry over the continued lack of safety in the mines, organized to protest their working conditions. This led to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, one of the most important pieces of worker safety legislation in American history.

In recent years, American mining companies have undermined the effectiveness of many of these reforms. West Virginia mandates that the state legislature must approve all environmental regulations, making meaningful regulation all but impossible. The companies managed to influence the scientific testing of black lung claims. Miners suffering from black lung need to have their cases confirmed by doctors, but a single pro-coal scientist at Johns Hopkins University denied all 1,500 cases he saw between 2000 and 2013. After the Center for Public Integrity exposed this travesty — winning a Pulitzer Prize in the process — Johns Hopkins suspended its black lung testing program.

Bill Moyers Journal: Mountaintop Mining
Today, mountaintop removal mining reshapes West Virginia and Kentucky, dumping millions of tons of contaminated soil into valleys, poisoning waterways and sickening residents. Coal companies claim it is the most cost-effective process, but it forces the long-term costs of mining onto local communities. It poisons waterways with mercury, lead, arsenic and selenium. Improper storage of coal waste also leads to polluted waterways. A Duke Energy coal ash leak in North Carolina earlier this year turned at least 27 million gallons of water in the Dan River into a toxic soup, polluting the water source for Danville, Va.

In 2010, 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the nation’s deadliest mine explosion since 1970. Don Blakenship, CEO of the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, had long fought against safety and environmental regulations. The mine’s operation was officially and notoriously unsafe, having racked up over 500 safety violations in the year before the explosion. After the disaster, Massey denied time off for miners to go to their friends’ funerals. Blankenship called the explosion an “act of God” and denied all responsibility.

Mine helmets and painted crosses sit at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine Tuesday, April 5, 2011, in Montcoal, W.Va.  (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Mine helmets and painted crosses sit at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine Tuesday, April 5, 2011, in Montcoal, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Upper Big Branch was a non-union mine. The coal companies have managed to reduce the UMWA to a shell of its former strength by closing union mines while investing in new non-union mines in the West, and automating jobs that allow them to lay off union members. And when workers lack a voice to fight for their own safety, the results can be disastrous. The UMWA only has 75,000 members today, down from 500,000 in 1946 and 240,000 in 1998. In 2006, an explosion at the non-union Sago Mine in West Virginia killed 13 miners, but the mine was only fined $71,800 for safety violations. Robert Murray, owner of the non-union Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah blew off the safety violations his operation received in 2006 as trivialities. The next year a mine collapse killed six miners and, later, three rescue workers searching for their bodies. When the UMWA criticized Murray’s safety record, he told family members of the dead, “the union is your enemy.” The coal industry is now fighting to reduce the already limited inspections of its mines.

The UMWA struggles to keep up its fight against black lung disease. The number of miners afflicted with the illness has risen in recent years, especially among younger miners. Fifty-two percent of the 113,000 mine dust samples turned into government regulators by coal companies since 1987 exceeded federal standards. Seventy-one percent of the miners who died at Upper Big Branch had already developed the lung lesions that are typical of black lung.

Like John D. Rockefeller Jr., a century ago, Blankenship, Murray and other coal mining CEOs destroy lives and ecosystems without consequences.

What is happening to miners is a sign of our declining labor rights more broadly. We’ve entered a New Gilded Age, a period of intense income inequality where capital mobility, corporate control over politics, union busting and degraded environments have lowered American workers’ standard of living.

Ludlow may seem a distant memory, but today the mine companies continue to exploit miners and corporate domination over our lives again threatens our rights.

Erik Loomis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns & Money. Follow him on Twitter @ErikLoomis.
  • submit to reddit
  • Joan Harris

    I managed my small family farm in southern Indiana that I inherited. In 1987 a coal company got permission from me to strip mine 60 acres of hayfield. The distinct forester recommended I have the company document the reclamation of land so as to protect my forest from intrusion. The company would not respond to my request all the while they were mining. The district forester set up a meeting with the Indiana Recamation Dept. to the companies chagrin. The meeting revealed they removed forest from an adjoining farm with no intention of replanting trees since the farmer wanted to plant the land. It sounds innocent but law says it must be put back the way it was and their actions were sneaky. The departments of Agricuture, Forestry and Reclamation had my back all the while and I am greatful for that.

  • Rework Oh Ryan

    Our government is rolling back the rights that everyone died for, not just this incident. Our 1st amendment, 2nd amendment, 4th amendment, 5th amendment, and 6th amendment. All under attack, and people also died for these. What’s new?

  • jamiejoy

    Thank you very much for this insightful report. It is truly frightening to notice the setbacks of basic human rights and environmental protection these days. Every day I learn more that makes me want to sound a very loud alarm to ALL OF US to wake up, speak up. We are on a very slippery and treacherous slope toward mass suffering, and for what? Time for a new attitude to answer the key questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What is true health amd wellbeing? How shall I/we live? What really matters?

  • Matthew Rosemier

    And yet there is a sizable faction of the citizenry in this country who would say that what the USDA, Forestry and Reclamation did was Big Government interfering with private business, hurting the “Jobs Creators”.

  • ComradeRutherford

    American patriots died for your rights. These rights are being taken away. And NO one seems to care to do anything about it.

  • Erik Loomis

    It was Baldwin-Felts, not the Pinkertons.

  • Tom Vessey

    Keep in mind that in the above story the mine company was “given permission” – these means a government agency and/or politician sold out the farmer. Keep giving more power to politicians who have no regard for private property rights and this story will continue to be repeated.

  • Art

    Our history is replete with stories of union busting and environmental degradation.
    In “The Glory and the Dream,” William Manchester’s excellent narrative history of the United States from the 1930’s to the early 1970’s follows many stories about government and corporate interests combining to thwart workers’ rights.
    One coal mine company owner purchased over $1 million in weapons and hired a private army rather than allow a union. Over and over workers have shed their blood just to exercise the right to organize.
    And after decades of rivers catching fire, miners with black lung disease, and a host of other environmental disasters we thought that the government would police the polluters. Yet from the first, corporations and the wealthy who benefit from the pollution have bought politicians in local, state and federal elections to do their bidding.
    We need to call and write all of our elected officials to tell them that this is not acceptable.
    Workers have the right to organize.
    Citizens have the right to clean air, clean water, and a planet that we will be proud to leave to our children and grandchildren.

  • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

    I never knew about the Ludlow Massacre. Though it saddens me it does not surprise me. What saddens me more is that Americans don’t have that fight in them anymore to challenge big business like they once used to and now things are rolling back where we are become more and more productive but are being paid relatively less and less. Time for Americans to wake up, a sleeping Giant, and fight for the things that really matter. There is no other way to make true progress happen.


    Yeah its so comparable to what is going on today…..

  • Anonymous

    I got a kick out of the short claim of…

    “On the morning of April 20, the Monday after Easter, the security forces lured strike leader Louis Tikas out of camp.”

    …while totally ignoring that calling “leader” Louis Tikas out was to account for a replacement worker who had been ambushed, then killed and laid across the railroad tracks next to the Ludlow camp by this “leaders” followers.

    Granted, Ludlow was a tragedy…but at least tell it’s story accurately with attention to both sides. For example, itt wasn’t the forces of order that started taking pot-shots at people…and it wasn’t just the striking miners who were killed, either.

    Why the truth? Because commentary like the above goes way too far in demonstrating that those on the “left” don’t particularly feel limited by the need for honesty….and have no compulsion against stretching the truth when it suits there purpose. The result? Reasonable responsible people tend to view them for what they are. And what they are – if the above is any example – “ain’t pretty”.

  • nick quinlan

    Yes, lobbying should be illegal, its just bribery, we all know that. I wish we could replace almost every member of the house and senate, they have no interest in the citizens of our country, and as you state, they are completely out of touch with us commoners. It would also be nice to wipe a large portion of corporations of the map as well. Profit is destroying the world

  • nick quinlan

    Same difference? Thugs employed by big business to do their dirty work.

  • Tom Klammer

    That’s rich. Are you saying that since Louis Tikas was recognized as a leader of strikers, that, without any evidence of his knowledge or complicity in the killing of a replacement worker, it was okay for militia soldiers in the pocket of CF&I to make a pretense of meeting him to negotiate, and then for Lt. Karl Linderfelt to break a rifle stock over Tikas’ head and other soldier(s) to shoot Tikas in the back? That showed him, didn’t it?

    It is good that only ‘leftists,’ and never supporters of such capitalist justice like yourself are the only ones ever lacking a compulsion against stretching the truth.

  • Anonymous


    No I’m NOT saying that. However, I *AM* saying that the violence DID originate of the part of the strikers, and to ignore the provocation they provided is a gross distortion of what actually happened.

    Tell me….how many references to the violence perpetrated by the strikers and their cohorts did *YOU* see in the above article? It is an article of history that they KILLED innocent people, you know! Why seem to deny it…and look the fool?

    Funny thing; what goes around comes around. If people like you keep refusing to deal with a subject forthrightly, then it’s going to be correctly assumed that you’re simply not honest. And what are the consequences of that, one wonders?

    In other words, “wise up”; liberals aren’t doing themselves – or their cause – a bit of good by demonstrating that “the truth is not in them”.

    BTW, knowing a little German, I can’t help but get a tickle out of how appropriate your handle seems to be.

    Have a good one!

  • Anonymous


    You got me there. I guess I never “consider[ed] the lethal working conditions which they were callously FORCED to work in” to be “violence”.

    You see, I wasn’t aware that they were FORCED to work under those conditions at all! I always assumed that if they DIDN’T want ot work there, that they were free to go elsewhere if they chose. Are you telling me now that the miners had guns held to their heads each day in order to FORCE them down into the mines? Or that they were rousted out of their beds in the morning by overseers with whips who FORCED them into mine heads? And that they were somehow physically obtained by press gangs that FORCED them at the point of blades or whatever to keep them digging coal. Unfortunately, I was unaware that such things took place. You see, I thought we were talking about human beings who possessed something called “free will”, and were responsible for their OWN lives and their OWN choices they made in them.

    But, of course, you stated in no uncertain terms that they were FORCED to work under “lethal working conditions”…meaning they had no free will of their own, had no possibility of just saying “no” and/or seeking employment elsewhere. Perhaps these miners were simple automans, with chips planted in their brains, denying them the exercized of free will because they were radio controlled, or what not. Interesting concept.

    In short: “FORCED”????? [smile]. Seems, “lady”, that your ability to reason and you the constraints of honesty are about on par with those of the author here; i.e. – neglible.

    That said, I wonder how you reconcile the fact that the strikers ASSASINATED those replacement workers who WERE willing to work in the mines, purportedly because they were scabbing their jobs. If, indeed, they were previously FORCED to work in those “lethal working conditions”, wouldn’t they be happy that someone else had stepped-up in such a fashion that they were NO LONGER FORCED to work under those conditions? Real mystery, isn’t it. And why would they use LETHAL force against those who were willing to relieve them of being “forced” down into the mines. Real logical cumundrum, isn’t it?

    Face it, “lady”….neither logic nor ethics are your strong suit.

  • joe ebbitt

    True, fighting for your life ain’t pretty.
    I guess there is no good reason for workers rights and regulations regarding safety.
    there is no longer racism….. takers ,just a bunch of takers, 47% of America doesn’t agree no matter what.
    Think , Mitt, think.

  • Anonymous


    Fighting for YOUR in the [possessive sense] life? Seems like we’re not talking about workers fighting for THEIR lives here, but rather their ability to TAKE the lives of OTHERS…many of them workers themselves!

    While I have sympathy with these EX-workers (remember…they WALKED AWAY from their jobs) aspirations, the fact is that they were responsible for their OWN choices. THEY chose to go down in the mines. THEY chose to have families to suipport. THEY chose to murder others who had the audicity to work at jobs they had turned away from themselves.

    In short, forgive me if I’m not ready to assign heroics to a group of thugs who decided that others had to be responsible for their welfare, and backed-up that decision by using physical violence against those who were willing to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEMSELVES.

    One wonders if you might feel the same way if it was your father, or brother, or whatever who had been pot-shot at simply because he was going to work, or who was laid-out dead across a railroad track after being murdered…murdered simply because he was willing to do a job other weren’t.

    There are all sorts of reasons for TRUE “workers rights”…primarily their right to “vote with their feet” (i.e. – having the capacity to walk away from ANY job they don’t like), and there is every reason in the world for regulations regarding worker safety…particularly the safety of INNOCENT workers simply going about their jobs.

    But I don NOT see their “rights” extending to depriving OTHERS rights to a peaceful existence. Don’t THEY – the ACTUAL workers – deserve the “right” to peacably go about their jobs without being molested by a bunch of thugs? Do the “rights” of cowardly EX-worker extend to the point of their being allowed to slits the throats of those ACTUAL workers who replaced them? I think not.

    There are two sides to this story. If you – along with others on this thread – choose to look at only one side of it, then you’re doing the organized labor movements no good whatsoever. That movement needs to be found on REALITY; not hyperbole.

  • Kevin Blankenship

    Ken very well put! You seem to be reasonable and a free thinking man. Socialist unionist are left leaning due to communist mentality in their movement. Unions were a prime tool of the communist movement and since many could sympathize with the plight of workers in unsafe and dangerous jobs the communist movement corrupted the unions noble cause and subverted it with unjust control on companies others founded and spent their money to create the jobs. I believe good workers safety and company goals are only “justly” going to be brought together is with workers being given profit sharing and a voice inside the company. Then the union leaching and the communist mentality can be separated out and everyone will benefit from their own investment of work and company.

  • Anonymous


    Oh, the “right thing” is MURDERING people because they won’t surrender their posssesions to you when you demand it????

    No doubt you HAVE seen your share of “unsafe work sites”, etc….but let me ask you; have you at any time been physically FORCED to continue working at those sites? FORCED to the point that you felt compelled to take someone else’s LIFE as the only viable alternative?

    Then bear in mind that these strikers had ALREADY demonstrated that they had the option to “just walk away” because they HAD abandoned their work sites and occupied positions at the mouth of access canyons where they could take violent action against those WHO WERE WILLING TO WORK!

    So I ask again, is that your idea of “the right thing”? Is that what your concept of “the working man” represents? I.e. – an individual who does NOT work, or utilize his common sense to simply walk away, but rather uses physically violence and intimidation to get what he demands…. instead of EARNING it?

    As for “getting the job done”, perhaps you failed to understand that these people were not only REFUSING to “get the job done”, but were using violence to PREVENT “get[ting] the job done” as well.

    To my mind, that’s the kind of parasites society doesn’t need. Now they may have thought that they’re “making [somebody] rich” or whatever, but in truth they didn’t even have the moxie and competence to support themselves, let alone others. And they showed that lack of moxie – and their resentment of those who didn’t lack it – by lashing out and killing those who had more than unjustified demands to offer. Then again, perhaps murdering someone and laying him across the railroad tracks that run in front of your camp is YOUR idea of “get[ting] the job done”.

    Blame “ALEC” and whatever all you want; but the fact is that you, and those who share your beliefs, have NOT “got the job done”…unless you consider clammoring “gimme, gimme” over and over again as “get[ting] the job done”. (fortunately, most people don’t)

  • Anonymous


    Perhaps you didn’t read the comment closely enough….the FARMER HIMSELF “gave permission” (NOT the gov’t!) because HE wanted to plant (farm) the field after the coal mining was done, instead of having it put back in trees in (what, if it’s Indiana, would already have likely been re-growth, secondary) forest.

    Given that it was HIS ground to do with as HE wanted in terms of farming it, I fail to see where there was any harm.

  • Anonymous


    Is “dirty work” preventing violent acts against those who actually DO want to work? Again, look at the background of the Ludlow incident…the “thugs” you mentioned were employed to prevent the REAL thugs from murdering and maiming yet more ACTUAL workers…and, given the fact that the REAL thugs were STILL murdering innocent replacement workers, it doesn’t appear that there were enough of them around to do the job.

    Of course, maybe you’re one of those who thinks it’s fine and dandy to take up residence astride the only entry road up a canyon and take deadly pot-shots at those who are traveling to their jobs on that road. If so, maybe you’d have a point; after all, why WORK for your living when you can intimidate, threaten, and committ physical violence in order to feather your nest, ‘eh?

    Lastly, in light of history, what surprises me is that many union members today seem to still have the same philosophy; that, instead of EARNING their way, it’s OK to use violence to further their goals. As has all too often been shown in recent times, firms like Baldwin-Felts may be long gone….but the union thugs they were called to go up against are still with us.

  • GregoryC

    Permission vs. eminent domain. My family was forced to surrender family farms for the war effort during WWII — they were scammed by a government using patriotism. Eminent domain is used to steal lands from folks to build the Keystone XL pipeline or for corporate interests.

  • Anonymous


    Seen a lot of “eminent domain” cases involving the opening-up of new coal fields, have ya’? [smile]

    Actually, my family also surrendered some acreage at the start of WWII for the construction of a large Army post, and “eminent domain” was used there as well. However, given that those whose property is taken by eminent domain have access to the courts, and a jury of their peers (read “friends and neighbors”) to determine the fair value of what’s taken, it’s kind of difficult to claim that the lands are “stolen”….although I’m quite willing to believe that people may not want to surrender their acreage for sentimental reasons. In my families case, my father and his siblings say that – coming at the end of the Depression, as it were – the family laughed all the way to the bank, rejoicing in the opportunity to sell at such an advantageous price. Of course, let’s face it; governments don’t tend to build military bases on what most would consider prime real estate.

    While I’m against “redevelopment” schemes which put perfectly adequate homes under the blade of the dozer, the fact remains that without SOME type of eminent domain being utilized, we’d have no roads, drainage facilities, power lines, etc. Conservative as I am, I realize that there IS a neccessity for government at times to take over otherwise private property…it’s simply a fact of life.

    By the way, speaking as one who co-owns (with my brothers) some farm ground under which a major trunk natural gas pipeline AND a mixed petroleum products pipeline passes, my guess is that there will be very little “eminent domain” process needed to obtain the Keystone right-of-way. Most of those “affected” will probably be chomping at the bit at the chance of having it run across their property, in order to make a quick – and relatively painless – real estate “killing”.

    That’s the way with reality. Sometimes it intrudes, ‘eh?

  • terry printz

    exactly the crux of the problem no one, including myself is willing to die for any cause this is the reason this country is 0fer since 1945

  • joe ebbitt

    OK,OK, your right Ken, where do I sign up ?? And thanks for saving me the trip to Bangladesh.

  • moderator

    Ken and Joe:

    Looks like you will have to agree to disagree. Time to move on before anyone breaks the comment policy.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Joe and Ken,

    Looks like you will have to agree to disagree. Time to move on before anyone breaks the comment policy.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • John T O’Malley

    From the American Experience link mentioned in one of the early paragraphs above; this thoroughly lays out why those men had to go on strike. It doesn’t excuse them from responsibility for violence, but offers an explanation which differs from some of the comments contained here.

    Federal mediator Ethelbert Stewart comments on the situation — October

    Theoretically, perhaps, the case of having nothing to do in this world but
    work, ought to have made these men of many tongues, as happy and contented as
    the managers claim … To have a house assigned you to live in … to have a store
    furnished you by your employer where you are to buy of him such foodstuffs as he
    has, at a price he fixes … to have churches, schools … and public halls free for
    you to use for any purpose except to discuss politics, religion, trade-unionism
    or industrial conditions; in other words, to have everything handed down to you
    from the top; to be … prohibited from having any thought, voice or care in
    anything in life but work, and to be assisted in this by gunmen whose function
    it was, principally, to see that you did not talk labor conditions with another
    man who might accidentally know your language — this was the contented, happy,
    prosperous condition out of which this strike grew … That men have rebelled
    grows out of the fact that they are men.

  • Anonymous


    They couldn’t have been “men” by simply walking away from the jobs they found unsatisfactory, and seeking better employment elsewhere? Or are you saying that there WAS NO better employment available to them, because they had achieved the status/wages/conditions that their economic value justified?

    These men weren’t forced to stay at those jobs…they took them VOLUNTARILY. There were no impressment gangs. There were no slave drivers standing over them with whips and guns coercing them into the mine shafts; rather, they entered them OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL!

    Seems to me that TRUE “men” take responsibility for themselves…and DON’T use violence to achieve an economic status which their economic worth doesn’t justify.

    I have all the respect in the world for their right to strike, in the sense of simply withholding their labor. However, when it comes to using violence, or intimidation, or any manner of suppression of the rights of those who would choose to take on the jobs the strikers walked away from, then I have a problem.

    Ask yourself; why didn’t they create their OWN jobs. Why didn’t they purchase their OWN homes. Why did they choose to move from their OWN country of origin to take the mining jobs instead of staying behind? I maintain that lacking the competency to do something yourself and/or take responsibility for ones self is no reason to “rebel” violently against those who HAVE that competency and HAVE accepted personal responsibility.

  • John T O’Malley

    I was just quoting what the mediator observed at the time. I understand that we all have our own free will; but I also understand that people can be backed into a corner.
    In addition, I reject the insinuation that those who own/run/manage companies have any moral authority over those who “just” work there. I know plenty from this gilded age who don’t deserve to be there except for pedigree, luck, who they know or where they were born.
    There was a difference then from now; I’m not sure if it is just perception or reality. Back then, companies paid for their own security detail. The Pinkertons are one example, but there were many at that time. Their job was not to restore order, but to support the company’s position in the dispute. Now we have peace officers, but many of them are used by today’s companies indirectly to achieve the same results. A good example is when the NYC police were used to clear the park during the occupy movement. That was not designed to restore peace, just to restore the ability of businesses to make money. Using your logic, I would implore those businesses to exercise their freedoms and move their business to another corner. Why do they get to use the public’s police force, but we don’t?

  • Anonymous


    Regarding your comment….

    ” I reject the insinuation that those who own/run/manage companies have any moral authority over those who “just” work there. ”

    … in that I don’t think I insinuated any such thing, nor do I ever consider it “just work”. In fact, if anything, I was emphasizing the moral authority of those who actually WERE working there….as opposed to those who STOPPED working and WALKED AWAY from their jobs. Remember, these people were camped at the mouth of the canyon at Ludlow (and anyone who has visited there can see the strategic value of the location in terms of inflicting violence on replacement workers) to intercept individuals from working in the mines and harassing them… an admission the union itself made. That harassment eventually included murdering those who would “just work”. Were the forces of justice just supposed to stand by while these thugs went about their dirty business? I think not.

    Also, I’m not too sure about your premise about public order and what not. The fact is, when individuals engage in activities that are against the law and/or infringe upon the person of others and their property, then I believe action needs to be taken. All too often, those that should be taking that action “bow to the mob” and refuse to do their duty. What are law abiding citizens options then? Should they just stand around and let the punks and thugs take over?

    In terms of your example, it’s worth remembering that the park being occupied in NYC was PRIVATE PROPERTY, dedicated to a specific purpose…and when the mob infinged upon that purpose (call that “the peace” if you will), then they needed to be removed….period. Sorry, but when parties ILLEGALLY put roadblocks in front of the LEGAL ability of businesses to make money, then they ARE breaching the peace.

    Ultimately, but I don’t feel that the forces of negativism ought to be given free reign just because they think the world owes them that which they are unable to earn themselves. We are supposed to be a nation of laws. As such, those who deliberately choose to violate those laws in order to advance their personal desires need to be dealt with as the criminals they are. We are NOT – or should not be – a society of chaotic animals!

  • John T O’Malley

    Well… as I said in my initial post, I don’t excuse any violence; not because it was against the law, but because anyone who engages in that has crossed a line of morality and innocence.
    However, the comments of the federal mediator at the time were thought-provoking; he basically described a situation in which the laws were written and funded by the employer, and enforced by the employer.
    The workers had no individual leverage with which to negotiate. They could not work any harder, faster, or with less safety measures. They could not simply go work at the mine down the road because that owner had the same conditions.
    At the end of the day, the workers’ pay was subject to company rent, company stores, and unilateral increases in prices.
    The workers were forced to accept untenable conditions from the employer, and forced to compete against one another for the ability to survive.
    Finally, the workers were subjected to violence from the employer’s security forces. In some cases it was to dissuade union activity, but in some cases it was simply to increase production or reduce bathroom breaks.
    According to the mediator, it is not surprising that people became so desperate that they resorted to protectionism and even violence. After all, it was an eye for an eye.
    I think I read from your comments that you support the company who was just trying to make a profit, and the workers who were willing to remain working there… and even those who decided NOT to work there, but that you just don’t agree with the violence from the union. I just hope you also condemn the conditions created by the company and violence committed by them against workers and families from that time. The collusion amongst the “captains of industry” was abominable.

  • Anonymous


    When you get right down to it, what you’re saying is that the ex-workers needed those jobs – and the employers that provided them – to survive. That’s the only “force” involved that I see…..that of having no other entities willing to offer an alternative means of survival. In reality, the employers were essentially the strikers only benefactors. No one else would figuratively give them even the time of day.

    So, while I may condemn the “conditions created by the company”, it’s worth remembering that AT LEAST THE COMPAN[IES] PROVIDED THOSE CONDITION, WHICH WERE THE BEST AVAILABLE TO THOSE WORKERS!

    The critics of the employers couldn’t do any better; in fact, they couldn’t do as well! If they could have, then those strikers would have had alternatives….and would not be “forced” to go into the mines. In that sense, who “forced” them? The mine owners…or that multitude of mine-owner-critics who WOUDN’T EVEN DO THAT MUCH?!?

    My wife and I volunteer at a food bank…and it always upsets me when clients say they’re “forced” to take certain foods from us because that’s all that’s available. When they talk like that, it makes me want to say “Well, how’s about we don’t make THESE options available? Where would you be then? After all, we’re not FORCING you to take what we have to offer!”

    The same could be said for these strikers. Most, if not all, were foreign-born, and actually made their way to this country specifically for those jobs, because the “conditions” in them were better than those offered at home. Now, if those conditions no longer suited them, then fine and dandy – simply move on. But to use violence against those who – quite literally – were their only benefactors? Sorry, but I don’t see it. And make no mistake; it was violence on the part of the strikers that initiated and led to the whole Colorado Coal Strike fiasco and the “Ludlow Massacre”….and it irritates me when [so-called] union supporters try to reform history and white-wash the actual events.

    BTW, it hasn’t escaped me that, in spite of a “mediator” and the UMW’s claim of public support, the union LOST that strike, at least in terms of the strikers….and lost it “big time”. And it seems that afterwards, all those jobs they walked away from didn’t look so bad to the strikers after all. That’s the reality of the situation…and, unfortunately, reality quite often doesn’t jive with the fairy tale so-called “organized labor” likes to spin.

  • John T O’Malley

    Thanks, Ken. I always appreciate hearing alternative points of view. It helps to scrutinize my own biases somewhat; and it sometimes fortifies my initial thoughts. Anyway, I appreciate your input. -John

  • Anonymous


    You’re more than welcome…..and I hope it goes without saying that I appreciate your viewpoint and the gentlemanly manner in which you presented it as well, particularly since you were presented with a certain degree of well-biased provocation on my part. [smile]