During the economic panic of 1893, the Pullman Palace Car Company cut wages as demands for their train cars plummeted and the company’s revenue dropped. A delegation of workers complained of the low wages and twelve-hour workdays, and that the corporation that operated the town of Pullman didn’t decrease rents, but company owner George Pullman “loftily declined to talk with them…”
The railroads were able to get Richard Olney, general counsel for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway, appointed as a special federal attorney with responsibility for dealing with the strike. Olney obtained an injunction barring union leaders from supporting the strike and demanding that the strikers cease their activities or face being fired. Debs and other leaders of the ARU ignored the injunction, and federal troops were called into action.
The strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 12,000 United States Army troops, commanded by Nelson Miles, sent in by President Grover Cleveland on the premise that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. Mail, ignored a federal injunction and represented a threat to public safety. The arrival of the military and subsequent deaths of workers led to further outbreaks of violence. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded. An estimated 6,000 rail workers did $340,000 worth of property damage (about $8,818,000 adjusted for inflation to 2010).
A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. The floor had a number of exits – two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Square – but flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway and the door to the Washington Square stairway was locked. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they still operated.
Within three minutes, however, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in either direction. Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly-anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire but in any event soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims onto the concrete pavement over a hundred feet below. The elevator operators, Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo, saved many lives by travelling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped down the empty shaft in a desperate attempt to avoid the flames; the weight of these bodies made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.
Much to the horror of the large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, sixty-two people died by jumping or falling from the ninth floor…
Although early references give the death toll as anywhere from 141 to 148, almost all modern references agree that 146 people died as a result of the fire. Six victims were never identified. Most victims died of burns, asphyxiation, blunt impact injuries, or a combination of the three.
It is often stated that most or all of the dead were women, but almost thirty of the victims were men. Eyewitnesses reported seeing men and women jumping out of the windows; the first jumper was a man, and another man was seen kissing a young woman at the window before they both jumped to their deaths…
The jury acquitted the owners. However, they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 and plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.
Miners of the CF+I were paid $1.68 a day and were forced to work in extremely harsh conditions, this was particularly true for the Colorado miners, where fatality rates were often double the national average. What little wages the miners earned were paid in scrip, which was redeemable only at the company store where prices were high…
The demands of the union and the continuing strike action enraged the Rockefeller family, which through mine ownership effectively ruled the region. They evicted striking workers from their company owned homes leaving them (along with their families) to face the harsh Colorado winter months without shelter. Assisted by UMWA groups across the US, the strikers organised ‘tent cities’ close to canyon mouths which lead to coal camps (in an attempt to block strike-breakers replacing them) and continued their strike…
Ludlow was the largest of the colonies, and on the morning of April 20th 1914, troops fired into the camp with machine guns, anyone who was seen moving in the camp was targeted. The miners fired back, and fighting raged for almost fourteen hours.
In the afternoon, a passing freight train stopped near the camp and allowed many miners and their families to escape to east to an area known as the ‘Black Hills’. After many hours of exchanging fire with the militiamen, the camps main organiser, Louis Tikas met with Lieutenant Linderfelt (the officer in charge of the National Guard assault on the Ludlow camp) to arrange a truce. Linderfelt hit Tikas with the butt of his rifle and soldiers fired several times into his back as he lay on the ground, killing him outright.
That evening, under cover of darkness, the militiamen entered the camp and set fire to tents, killing two women and eleven children who were sheltering from the shooting in a pit below a tent, thirteen other people were also shot dead during the fighting.
Mass rallies had been held by workers outside the Columbine mine in Serene for several weeks and on the morning of November 21, about 500 miners and their families marched towards the north gate of the town. On their arrival, they were met by plainclothed militiamen with rifles, blocking the entrance to the gate, backed up by mine guards inside the town also armed with rifles and tear gas grenades. Upon being refused entry into the town and after a short discussion, the miners asserted their wish to enter, telling the militiamen that many of them had children in Serene’s school, that they needed access to a public post office in the town and that they still had a right to hold rallies.
With the militiamen still refusing the open the gate, Adam Bell, a strike leader, approached the gate and was struck on the head with a baton. As he fell to the floor, the miners surged forward to protect him as he lay unconscious. Tear gas canisters were fired by the militia, and many were thrown back by the rushing miners. The strikers began to scale the gate and a battle soon ensued, with police beating the miners back and seriously injuring several people, including a mother of sixteen, while the miners fought back with rocks.
The militiamen and police sustained minor injuries, the general consensus of the day amongst the IWW men had been to leave their weapons at the union hall or at home. Eventually, the miners forced their way through the gate, and many began to scale the fences around the gates. The police retreated about a hundred yards inside the town, and fired into the mass of surging strikers with their rifles and at least two machine guns. The miners quickly scattered, but at least six people had been killed and more than sixty injured by the hail of bullets, several seriously. The miners also later claimed that not only were they fired upon by the retreated police line, but also from another machine gun positioned at the mine tipple on their flank, which would have created a devastating crossfire.
Owner Henry Ford was an extremist when it came to anti-unionism. The company’s service Department was actually a group of thugs and gangsters hire to scare and intimidate workers who dared to try to Organize. The company furnished this hired police force with weapons and ammunition. They were joined by local police and were on hand to meet any strike with lethal firepower. They also engaged in a systematic program of spying on and disrupting any attempts to organize the workforce.
The night of the Rouge River battle several Unemployment Councils organized a march to protest the plant lay-offs. They marched down several city blocks and were met at the bridge by Detroit Police and the Ford Service Department. The peaceful protestors were met by tear-gas canisters and sprayed with high pressure ice cold water. A few desperate and angry marchers through rocks at the police to fight back and suddenly the gates were opened up and the Police and the Ford Service Department armed with sub-machine guns began firing hundreds of rounds into the crown. In the ensuing panic five men were killed by the gunfire and 60 more wounded.
As with so many other labor struggles Ford Motor Company was never held accountable in any way but the local police raided Union Headquarters and the homes of several union officials. However, the workers were not silenced. Five days later 60,000 citizens took part in a giant funeral march to protest the killings. The authorities were condemned world wide for this slaughter which helped the UAW to eventually succeed in organizing the largest industry in the Country.
A pair of tall black boots and a lunch pail sat near the altar Sunday at the New Life Assembly church – a memorial to the 29 men killed in the worst U.S. mining disaster since 1970 and a thank-you to those who make their living inside the mountains.
This day, the first Sunday since last Monday’s explosion killed 28 workers and a contractor at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, was for many a time to honor the profession. Tears of mourning fell, and arms swayed in worship among the 50 people gathered at the church…
A team of federal investigators will arrive Monday as officials try to figure out what caused the blast. Virginia-based Massey has been under scrutiny for a string of safety violations at the mine, though CEO Don Blankenship has defended the company’s record and disputed accusations that he puts profits ahead of safety.
Authorities have said that high levels of volatile methane gas may have played a role in the disaster. Massey has been repeatedly cited and fined for problems with the system that vents methane and for allowing combustible dust to build up.
Thank the FSM that we no longer need a strong labor movement in this country (if we ever really did – sure the invisible hand of the marketplace would have eventually forced employers to pay a living wage, stop employing children, improve unsafe working conditions, and institute an 8-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek, amirite?). See also here.
UPDATE: What this post needs is a little musical accompaniment:
Yeh, this one’s for the workers who toil night and day
By hand and by brain to earn your pay
Who for centuries long past for no more than your bread
Have bled for your countries and counted your dead
In the factories and mills, in the shipyards and mines
We’ve often been told to keep up with the times
For our skills are not needed, they’ve streamlined the job
And with sliderule and stopwatch our pride they have robbed
We’re the first ones to starve, we’re the first ones to die
The first ones in line for that pie-in-the-sky
And we’re always the last when the cream is shared out
For the worker is working when the fat cat’s about
And when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
Who’s given a gun and then pushed to the fore
And expected to die for the land of our birth
Though we’ve never owned one lousy handful of earth?
All of these things the worker has done
From tilling the fields to carrying the gun
We’ve been yoked to the plough since time first began
And always expected to carry the can