Heartaches and Hardships of the Labor Movement
Heartaches and Hardships of the
Discontent among laborers and employees was not a concept unique to the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was the period in history following the American Civil War (1861–65) and Reconstruction (roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century), characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption. For as long as people have worked for other people, labor conditions and wages have been issues. This unrest among workers intensified in the late nineteenth century because more people were earning wages.
Between 1860 and 1900, the number of workers in manufacturing quadrupled to six million. The 1870 U.S. census (a periodic count of the country's population, and related statistics as well) revealed that 67 percent of productivity relied on human labor. The Industrial Revolution (1877–1900) served only to increase that percentage and made America a nation of wage earners. When people are paid for their work by other people, it is called the wages system.
Coal mining: industry of sorrow
The primary industry of Pennsylvania in the 1860s was coal mining. The number of mine workers in 1870 peaked at around fifty-three thousand, compared with twenty-five thousand in 1860. Of these thousands, a full third were Irish immigrants.
The Irish were targets of discrimination and prejudice during those days, in America and elsewhere. (For more information, see Chapter 4.) Many people disliked the Irish because of their Catholic roots and because they were the least educated of all the immigrant groups in general. In addition, unlike other foreign workers in the coal mines, the Irish did not accept unfair treatment as just another part of the job. Instead, they fought back when anyone tried to take advantage of them. They did not hesitate to speak out in their own defense because they knew no one else would.
Some of the biggest mines in the coal regions were British owned. The English stockholders appointed white, American Protestants (Christians, but not Catholics) as the officials in these mines. These white Protestants, in turn, hired Welsh and English miners to work the mines. These miners worked on a contract basis, meaning they were paid by the ton of coal mined. The more coal mined, the higher the wage. These contract miners hired laborers to do the hardest work. Most of the laborers were Irish, and they were paid only a fraction of what the contract miners received.
WORDS TO KNOW
- Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH):
- A Catholic organization formed in America in 1836. Some of its members came from various organizations created centuries earlier in Ire land. The purpose of the AOH was to help Irish Catholic immigrants settle in America and to defend them from persecution. One way the AOH defended its members was to keep its meetings and actions secret.
- Gilded Age:
- The period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction (roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century), characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption.
- labor union:
- A formally organized association of workers that advances its members' views on wages, work hours, and labor conditions.
- Molly Maguires:
- A secret society of workers established in Ireland in the 1840s whose mission was to fight discrimination. Some of its members immigrated to America later in the century. The Mollies were blamed for violence in the coal regions, though evidence against them was nonexistent.
- An economic system in which the government owns and operates business and production as well as controls the distribution of wealth.
- A work stoppage by employees in protest of unfair treatment.
- Companies or individual employees who provide work during a strike; sometimes called scabs.
- wages system:
- An economic system in which people rely on other people to earn a living. Employees are paid money for their services.
Mine superintendents (bosses) were usually Welsh, though some were English. When a top mining job opened up, these superintendents filled it with another Welshman or Englishman. The Irish laborers, whose work was harder and yet who received lower pay, constantly saw others being promoted while they remained in the lowest positions. Normally, a worker can go to a boss to complain of unfair treatment. In the case of the Irish mineworkers, those Irishmen who complained were blacklisted (had their names put on a list that was shared among all mines throughout the coal region) and could not get a job at all. They had no way to change policy and procedures.
No life of leisure
Regardless of a miner's ethnic roots, his life was one of intense hardship. Some men began working the mines at the age of eight. (See more about the hardships of mining in Chapter 8.) Before the advent of electricity, they worked in mines 1,200 feet below the ground in total darkness except for the tiny flame on the front of their helmets. Those mine shafts were cold, so much so that miners' fingers would crack and bleed daily.
Each mine had a heated office or shed for the superintendent. Each mine also had an emergency hospital or first aid room. If a miner was injured, he was immediately taken to this room before being sent to the surface. These hospitals contained one or two stretchers and basic first aid supplies.
Miners faced great danger every day. The lamp on a miner's cap was fueled with fish or whale oil. Its light was poor and dangerous. Mines were filled with the earth's natural gases, and many gas explosions were ignited by the flame from a miner's cap. In addition, miners had to grow accustomed to being burned with dripping oil from their caps. Shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, the carbide lamp appeared. This lamp used flint (quartz that sparks when steel strikes it) to produce a bright, white flame. While the carbide was a vast improvement over the old oil flame, it still produced an open flame that could cause an explosion.
Ventilation (the free flow of air) in mines was essential but difficult to provide because of the great depths at which the shafts lay below the earth's surface. Mines were damp, filled with carbon dioxide, gas, dust, and smoke. Miners in general did not live long lives. Many died of black lung, a disease that results from breathing coal dust. For the most part, the younger the man was when he began working the mines as a boy, the younger he was when he died.
Miners lived in small towns called patches. Mining companies owned these towns, and the families who lived there were never given the opportunity to own the homes. All rent money went directly back to the mine company. One such town still exists today in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The town is called Eckley, and it consists of one partially paved road. Eckley was built in 1854 and is home to 150 buildings. Population peaked at nearly two thousand people in the 1880s, with up to fifteen people living in one double-family home. In the twenty-first century, just twenty residents remain, most of them descendants of miners who once lived there. They are still not allowed to own their homes because the town is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In an effort to maintain its historical accuracy, Pennsylvania forbids private ownership of any of Eckley's buildings. Given this protection, the now-historic village is a slice of life from an era long gone.
Perhaps the biggest injustice of all was the miner's wage. The average laborer earned less than twenty-five cents an hour until 1913, when his wage was raised to a quarter an hour. With this money, he had to buy all his own mining tools and supplies, including lamp oil, clothing, gloves, and picks. There was little left to buy his family food and other necessities. To make matters worse, wages at some mines were paid in script. Script was redeemable only at mine-owned company stores, where prices for basic goods were higher than at regular general stores and shops. These miners earned less money than laborers in many other industries, and they were forced to pay higher prices for everyday items.
One conflict leads to another
The first significant conflict involving the Irish occurred during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) had passed a law allowing men to be free from service in the military if they paid a sum of $300. Irish laborers considered this a violation of their civil rights because they barely had enough money to feed and clothe their families. Antidraft riots broke out all over the nation and included citizens of all nationalities.
In the years to come, a secret organization called the Ancient Order of Hibernians would be blamed for the riots. The blame came mainly from a newspaper owned by Welsh-American Benjamin Bannan (1807–1875). Bannan did not bother to hide his hatred of the Catholic Church or Irish immigrants. He openly sided with the Welsh and English miners in all matters. He wrote an article for his Miner's Journal in which he claimed that the only thing the Irish were good for was opening saloons and hanging out in them. It was Bannan who first blamed all crime and violence on the Irish, and it was he who almost singlehandedly started the American legend of a secret society called the Molly Maguires. This group, started in Ireland in the 1840s, was established with the goal of fighting discrimination. Some of its members immigrated to America later in the century. The Mollies were blamed for violence in the coal regions, though evidence against them was nonexistent.
There was a high incidence of crime in the coal regions throughout the 1860s and 1870s. The Irish were involved in riots, arson, and murder. But crime statistics from that era indicate that the crime rate was as high before the Molly Maguires supposedly took over as it was after they came on the scene. Neither did the crime rate drop even after twenty alleged Mollies were hanged and hundreds of others imprisoned. Other coal mining areas in America also experienced similar levels of crime during those decades, leading historians to believe that the crime was a result of the mining industry conditions, not the Irish discontent.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is the oldest Catholic organization in America. (Hibernia is the Latin name for Ireland.) It was formed in 1836 in New York and by several organizations that were themselves formed centuries earlier in Ireland. As the members of these organizations immigrated to America, they reformed old alliances and renamed themselves the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
As immigration increased, so did prejudice against the Irish. In every city, shopkeepers hung signs in windows that read "No Irish Need Apply," to let these immigrants know they had no chance of being hired for a job. After the Irish and even their churches became targets of violence in some cities, members of AOH felt they would have to resort to tactics once used in Ireland, mainly violence and sabotage (damage done on purpose). But that did not come to pass, as physical attacks against them were, in fact, few.
The AOH remained a secret organization in its early years in America. Its outreach included giving Irish immigrant members money when they arrived in America. It also gave them aid in finding housing and jobs.
Railroads versus the mines
Franklin Gowen (1836–1889) was the president of the Reading Railroad in 1866. This line was the main transporter of coal between Schuylkill (pronounced SKOO-kul) County and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Within two years of becoming president, Gowen purchased 200,000 acres of coal mining land for the Reading Railroad. Now that he owned a large percentage of the coal mines in that region, Gowen focused his attention to turning a profit from the mines.
Gowen became concerned with an Irish immigrant named John Siney (1831–1879). In 1868, Siney formed the Workers Benevolent Association (WBA), a labor union for miners. (A labor union is a formally organized association of workers that advances its members' views on wages, work hours, and labor conditions.) Even though Siney strictly forbid the use of violence by WBA members, Gowen became suspicious of Siney when a few mine bosses were found murdered in the Schuylkill region.
Gowen was not the only big business owner who was worried about the mining regions of Pennsylvania. Asa Packer (1805–1879) owned Lehigh Railroad, another major transporter in the region. Charles Parrish (1826–1896) owned the Lehigh & Wilkes Barre Coal Company. Gowen, Packer, and Parrish were among the wealthiest men in the country in the 1870s. Their financial security depended on increased coal production, which in turn meant increased use of the railroads. The three men bought large interests in the mines so that they could control the shipping of the coal. The plan was to ship as much coal out of the region as quickly as possible to ensure quick profit.
In an effort to improve relations between the union miners and the mine owners, Siney negotiated an agreement with Gowen. If the price of coal rose, so did the wages of the workers.
There was nothing said about a situation where the price of coal might decrease, and when the market became oversupplied with coal due to the plan of Packer, Gowen, and Parrish, the price of coal fell. Miners watched helplessly as their wages were cut by 50 percent. Even after working sixty hours a week, they did not have enough money to feed their families.
The Conflict between Protestants and Catholics
Until the mid-1800s, the Roman Catholic population in America tended to be wealthy and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. In the 1840s, millions of Irish Catholics left Ireland in search of a better life in America. Their appearance in the United States changed the Catholic population forever. American Catholics, once educated members of the aristocracy, or upper class, now included poverty-stricken immigrants from various countries—primarily Ireland—who spoke many languages. Although immigrants of other religions came to the shores of America, their appearance did not have the same impact as that of their Catholic peers. In 1850, Catholics comprised just 5 percent of the American population. By 1906, they made up 17 percent and were the largest religious denomination in the United States.
Immigration brought to the surface the fears and insecurities of many Americans. Citizens were coming to terms with accepting major shifts in life as they knew it. With the arrival of so many Catholics, upper-class American Catholics were expected to embrace lower-class immigrant Catholics. This was no easy task for aristocratic society, whose members enjoyed the class differences and the benefits associated with those differences. For non-Catholic Americans, they had to deal with an influx of people who did not share their beliefs. Catholic churches were being built in every American neighborhood. To some, it must have seemed as if Catholicism was taking over America.
Many Americans had mixed feelings about immigration anyway. Yes, immigrants would provide cheap labor to keep alive industrialism (an economy based on business and industry rather than agriculture). But they viewed immigrants as different. They had foreign manners and behavior. They were not American. Immigrants came to the shores of New York with great hopes of a better life, but they must have been terrified at the prospect of coming to a foreign land with no knowledge of the language or customs.
Feelings about immigration from both immigrants and Americans were expressed in their religious views. Catholicism gave immigrants a feeling of comfort and security. It was something they were able to bring over with them to a new land. Americans blamed Catholicism for the foreign invasion of their own comfort and familiarity. Yet it was the Catholic Church that made the greatest effort to welcome immigrants to America. The Church helped them find jobs and homes. It taught their children the basics of the English language. It looked out for their political interests.
Although Protestants and Catholics are Christian denominations, they differ in certain ways. For example, Protestants did not agree with the strict hierarchy (chain of command) in the church structure. Catholicism relies heavily on the authority of its leaders, beginning with the Pope in Rome. Protestants believed the Bible was the source of God's word; Catholics used rituals like confession and Mass to keep in contact with God. Protestants considered Jesus to be the only link between themselves and God; Catholics believed prayers should be offered to the saints. These few differences pitted Catholics against Protestants for four centuries before immigrants arrived in America.
Beyond these doctrinal, or policy, differences, the conflict also involved social class. Many upper-class Americans considered immigrants lazy and dangerous simply because they were poor and had different customs and ways of doing things. For lower-class Americans, immigrants competed for jobs and a place in society they considered belonged to them by right of birth. Eventually, Congress passed immigration restriction laws that limited the number of people allowed into America. Catholic immigration came to a standstill by 1924. (See Chapter 4 for more on immigration.)
"Wildcat" strikes—those not sponsored by a formal organization but undertaken by miners on their own—took place in the mines owned by Gowen, Parrish, and Packer. The Irish led these strikes. Although Siney and most Welsh miners were against the strikes, the Irish and some other laborers felt it was time to demand a guaranteed wage.
Packer, Gowen, and Parrish recognized a business opportunity when they saw it and they seized it. While mining conditions were chaotic, the three men drove the smaller mines out of business. Those smaller mines could not handle the demands for higher wages from workers as well as demands for higher freight charges from the railroads. Soon the small mines were forced out of business and bought by Gowen, Parrish, and Packer. They now owned all the mines and railroads in the Schuylkill and nearby Carbon County region. They agreed not to compete with one another and met with other mine owners and railroad tycoons in 1873 to set the wholesale cost of coal.
The only uncontrollable factor in their successful mining equation was the WBA, especially the Irish membership. Gowen had big plans to build a monopoly in the mining industry, not only in the Pennsylvania regions but throughout the country. The WBA and AOH were the only obstacles in his way. Gowen hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency (see box) in 1873 to help him destroy the union and the AOH. Gowen (and possibly Parrish and Packer, although no hard evidence of it exists) paid Pinkerton $100,000 to gain access to the WBA with spies. Pinkerton sent Irish immigrant James McParland (1843–c.1918) into Schuylkill County.
For two years, McParland lived under the alias James McKenna. He joined the AOH and the WBA and found work as a laborer. Within months of beginning his undercover work, McParland reported to Pinkerton that he believed the AOH was involved with a secret society called the Molly Maguires. The origins of the Mollies are not certain; even the history behind the name is unclear. What is known is that the society was formed in Ireland in the 1840s to fight worker discrimination, and some of its members emigrated to America later in the century. In order to join the Mollies in America, Irishmen had to first join the AOH. But very few AOH members were Mollies. The Molly Maguires relied on terrorist tactics, including murder, to reach their goals. McParland—and eventually Gowen, Packer, and Parrish, along with the help of newspaper publisher Bannan—tried to convince authorities that all AOH members were Mollies. Because most AOH members were also involved in the
Pinkerton's National Detective Agency
Pinkerton's National Detective Agency was founded by Allan Pinkerton (1819–1884) in 1850. The Scottish-born Pinkerton emigrated to the Chicago area at the age of twenty-three in 1842. The Pinkerton Agency was one of the first private detective agencies in the United States and was the model used in the development of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
America's law enforcement forces during the mid-1880s were, at best, capable of handling ordinary crimes such as theft and arson. For crimes involving murder, or those committed against the government, authorities relied on Pinkerton to solve the mystery. (In fact, Pinkerton was involved in thwarting an assassination plot against President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861.) Much of Pinkerton's business came from banks and shipping organizations such as railroads. As America became more industrialized, the agency accepted assignments from big businesses as well. Agents often infiltrated companies as spies. They also worked with strikebreakers, companies that provided cheap labor for industries when regular workers went on strike. In the 1880s alone, the agency provided services for seventy labor disputes, including the infamous Homestead Strike of 1892 (see later in this chapter). Soon, the Pinkerton Detective Agency was considered the enemy of the common laborer.
The agency advertised itself as the "all-seeing eye." The company's logo included the eye; its motto was "We never sleep." This logo and motto eventually led to the establishment of the term "private eye."
The Pinkerton Agency depended on armed guards as well as spies like James McParland. Although the agency was highly regarded throughout the Gilded Age, modern historians have acknowledged that the detectives' methods were not always ethical. It is generally accepted, for example, that the testimony provided by McParland against the alleged Molly Maguires was made up. Evidence has never been found to prove any truth to McParland's claims. Pinkerton himself knew his detectives were not always truthful, but he felt the results justified the means; that is, if criminals were taken off the streets, then it did not matter how they were removed. This attitude does not take into consideration the imprisonment and death of innocent people.
When the Pinkerton Agency was established, there were fifteen operatives (detectives). By the early 1890s, there were two thousand active agents and several thousand reservists (agents called upon only in time of need). When Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, his sons took over management of the company, which brought in nearly $2 million a year in the 1920s.
When Robert Pinkerton II (1904–1967), great-grandson of the founder, took over, he ended the agency's antiunion operations. The company's name changed to Pinkerton's Incorporated in the 1960s, and its headquarters moved to California. The agency had seventy branch offices throughout the United States and included about thirteen thousand full-time employees. In 1999, Pinkerton's was bought by a Swedish security company called Securitas.
WBA, argued McParland and Bannan, both organizations had to be eliminated in order to destroy their power. McParland knew there was no truth to this claim, but that fact was merely an inconvenience.
It took several years of undercover work by McParland, hundreds of pages of false court testimony on the part of police and citizens, and the cooperation of the wealthiest men in America to finally destroy the WBA, but in 1877 and 1878, twenty Irish Americans alleged to be Molly Maguires were hanged for the murders of sixteen or seventeen men (historical accounts vary), most of them mining officials. One of the executed, Alexander Campbell, claimed his innocence until the day he died. Hours before his execution, Campbell placed a dirt-covered hand on the wall of his prison cell and declared his handprint would be a constant reminder that the Pennsylvania town of Mauch Chunk (now called Jim Thorpe) had hanged an innocent man. Legend has it that despite every attempt of prison authorities to remove the handprint, including the destruction of that cell wall in 1930 and its subsequent rebuilding, a faint handprint remains visible to the naked eye. Natives of the town swear it is Campbell's handprint. Others call it a hoax. Regardless, the prison is now a historic landmark visited by thousands of tourists annually.
The AOH suffered from the Molly Maguire scandal, but it was not destroyed. The scandal did not give Parrish, Gowen, and Packer the results they had hoped for, either. Each of the men was affected when an economic recession hit in 1878. (An economic recession is a time of reduced business activity that usually results in rising unemployment rates and a drop in prices for goods and services.) Gowen declared bankruptcy in 1880 and shot himself to death nine years later. Parrish went bankrupt in 1878 and died the following year. Packer died in 1879, and within two years, his company went bankrupt as well. McParland became a Pinkerton manager and continued his union-busting business. He slowly slid into a paranoid insanity, existing under the fear that the descendants of the Molly Maguires were out to assassinate him for revenge. He died alone in a Denver, Colorado, hospital bed in either 1918 or 1919 (records vary).
The Molly Maguire scandal in Pennsylvania was not the only one of its kind. But it is representative of all the many issues that led to the labor disputes of the Gilded Age: prejudice against immigrants; greed of big business owners versus the rights of workers; social class distinctions. That scandal illustrates well the reasons American and immigrant workers alike were willing to risk their lives to form labor unions. Without the unions, and sometimes, even with them, laborers' rights were difficult to demand and enforce.
Pennsylvania in particular was a place of intense labor union efforts. As far back as the 1790s, shoemakers in Philadelphia joined efforts to fix a pricing structure and keep out cheap competition. In the 1820s, a mechanics' union was formed. In 1869, one of the most powerful labor unions ever formed was organized in Philadelphia. Under the leadership of Uriah S. Stephens (1821–1882), nine tailors established the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor (KOL). The KOL differed from previous unions in that it allowed both unskilled and skilled laborers to join. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most laborers were skilled craftsmen. But with the advent of machinery that could do the work of many men, businesses did not need to hire (or pay the higher wages for) as many skilled laborers. Much of the work-force of the late nineteenth century was unskilled. The KOL also welcomed women and African Americans into its ranks. During its early years, the KOL met in secrecy. By the 1880s, it had become a national force.
Among other goals, the KOL negotiated for an eight-hour work day (ten- or twelve-hour shifts had been the norm), an end to child labor, equal pay for equal work (which meant that regardless of sex and race, people who performed the same task would be paid the same wage), and an income tax that would require higher taxes to be paid by those who earned more. The KOL also worked to have the telegraph and railroad industries become government-owned so that private businessmen could not gouge workers with high prices.
Because the KOL was open to all workers, its membership grew rapidly. In 1884, fifty thousand laborers were Knights. By 1886, that number had jumped to seven hundred thousand. Membership was open to all craft and trade occupations, such as machinist, blacksmith, and carpenter. Workers in the professional sector, such as lawyers and doctors, could not join.
The KOL did not support worker strikes in the early years of its existence. In 1877, the same year as the first of the Molly Maguire hangings, the Great Railroad Strike occurred. The violence in the mining regions of Pennsylvania was not merely a state issue; people across the country knew what had been going on. They knew of the mine officials' murders, the Molly Maguire scandal, and the railroad forces that were behind the executions of ten (soon to be twenty) men who many believed were innocent of the charges against them. The mood among laborers across America was one of bitter resentment. Pennsylvania would soon find itself home to yet another industry scandal.
The Great Railroad Strike
The year 1873 was one of economic depression in America. (An economic depression is a period of low production and sales and high rates of unemployment and business failures.) The root cause of the 1873 depression was the collapse of the mighty railroad. The main reason for the collapse was simple: The railroad had over-extended itself. With the last spike driven into the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, America's obsession with the railroad began. In its excitement, railroad tracks were being built in every direction. Two-thirds of the track headed west, an area still largely unsettled. So by 1873, there were thousands of miles of railroad tracks going virtually nowhere, at least nowhere that could be profitable to shippers or the railroads. Just one year prior, two-thirds of all railroads were unable to pay their stockholders dividends (the amount of money an investor makes off a company).
In 1873, Jay Cooke & Company failed. Jay Cooke (1821–1905) had been the chief financier of the railroads. With branches closing in New York and Philadelphia, railroad construction came to an abrupt halt. Railroad workers suddenly found themselves without jobs; by 1874, five hundred thousand railroad employees were out of work. By the end of 1873 alone, more than five thousand businesses had failed.
By 1877, 20 percent of the entire labor force in America was unemployed. Another 20 percent was working regular hours; the remaining 60 percent worked irregular hours and took work when it was available. Railroad workers were laboring at wages a full 35 percent below what they had made prior to the depression. The Pennsylvania Railroad announced it would reduce wages another 10 percent effective June 1, 1877. Soon, other eastern railroads announced similar cuts. Workers could take no more. At a time when they were already making next to nothing and working fifteen to eighteen hours a day to earn it, they were expected to accept even less.
On July 16, 1877, forty firemen and brakemen from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad went on strike in Maryland. Police quickly broke up the crowd. A second strike took place the next day in West Virginia, and this time, strikers seized control of the train depot. Trains were not coming in or leaving. Police arrested strike leaders, but the crowd managed to release them. President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893; served 1877–81) sent in federal troops to take control. It was the first time a U.S. president took federal action against strikers.
On July 19, strikers of the Pennsylvania Railroad marched at Pittsburgh. This strike led to rioting. Federal troops were sent in from Philadelphia, and when they fired into the crowd, twenty-five people were killed and more were wounded. This event served only to infuriate the strikers further. They set fire to freight cars and sent them into the roundhouse (garage for trains) where soldiers were gathered. Though the forces escaped, they were not able to prevent the angry mob, which had grown to somewhere between four and five thousand people, from destroying the depot. Five hundred train cars, over one hundred locomotives, and thirty-nine buildings were destroyed. While all this was happening, similar riots were taking place at depots across Pennsylvania. Freight was going nowhere; trains could not run. Federal troops restored order one city at a time. Strikers returned to work; though not victorious, they had caused more than $10 million in property damages.
Although the railroad crisis lasted just one month, the consequences were influential for years. The public had sided with the railroad laborers; they knew these men were working in unsatisfactory conditions and with very little pay. But after the Great Strike, middle- and upper-class Americans now felt the necessity to take a stand against labor. They felt these men, and not just railroad workers, must be controlled by any means available. Miners, sewer workers, and millhands all joined in on the side of the railroad strikers. It was America against the laborer, and the battle had just taken a drastic turn. For the first time, workers realized they had true power.
Terence V. Powderly and
In September 1879, a machinist and union organizer, Terence V. Powderly (1849–1924), became grand master workman, the highest position in the KOL. Powderly was an Irishman living in Pennsylvania. In addition to being a laborer, he practiced law and managed a grocery store.
Powderly was a small, dainty man. He did not fit the image of a strong union leader. But his political skills were such that he kept his grand master position for fourteen years. Powderly was a skilled public speaker, able to inspire his listeners and move them to action. His vision for the KOL was of the skilled worker defending the unskilled worker as well. That blend of skill levels was one of the reasons the KOL attracted so many members, but it would also be one of the main reasons for its end.
Most skilled workers did not want to join forces with the unskilled. They felt they had nothing to gain from such a union. That is why traditional labor unions did not allow unskilled workmen to join. It was only a matter of time before the traditional unions pitted themselves against the KOL.
The Knights played important roles in a number of strikes throughout the winter of 1883–84. In 1885, they found themselves involved in a major railroad strike involving the Wabash line. Financier Jay Gould (1836–1892) owned and controlled much of the Southwest railroad system, including the Wabash line. Gould was known for his unethical business tactics, which included blackmail (demanding money in exchange for withholding potentially damaging information). Workers of the Wabash line, some of whom were Knights, were not happy with their work situation and went on strike. Without them, Gould's entire system could not operate. He was forced to deal with the Knights, and the KOL's "victory" over the railroad's most celebrated businessman earned them the leadership of the labor movement. Total membership increased, and Powderly was the undisputed king. The honor proved to be short-lived.
In early 1886, labor unions throughout the country began coordinating a movement for the eight-hour workday. On May 1, laborers from many industries went on strike. On May 3, strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works factory encountered police who attacked the unarmed strikers, killing several of them.
Events got out of control on May 4 in Chicago's Haymarket Square. A peaceful protest meeting was being held in the square. Participants were publicly denouncing the police brutality that led to the tragic events of the day before. As the Haymarket meeting was finishing, police arrived to break up the crowd, which was already dispersing of its own accord. Someone from the crowd threw a bomb into the group of police officers. One officer was killed immediately, and seven more died later as a result of their injuries. A riot broke out and shots from both sides were fired. No one knows for certain how many protesters were killed in the riot. As soon as they fell, friends and coworkers dragged them to safety. The bomber was never identified.
The Haymarket Square riot did not help the laborers achieve their goal. Instead, it served to intensify the disgust of middle- and upper-class society toward the working class. Americans were demanding justice for the fallen police officers. Newspapers encouraged the ill will toward the strikers in particular, laborers in general. Eight Chicago anarchists (proponents of a society without rules) were eventually arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder. A jury comprised primarily of businessmen and clerks found all the defendants guilty, even though no physical evidence tied them to the bombing. One defendant was sentenced to fifteen years in prison; the rest were hanged on November 11,1887.
The Haymarket Square riot turned out to be the turning point for the Knights. With the events in Chicago, public opinion of labor unions hit a low point. Citizens were vocal in their hatred of the labor organizations, including the KOL. During the eight-hour-day movement, the Knights aborted a strike effort in a Chicago stockyard. Although workers had already convinced officials that negotiations among management and labor were necessary, Powderly ordered the Knights back to work, and the control reverted to management. Any authority the KOL once had was quickly disintegrating. By 1900, membership in the KOL had dropped to one hundred thousand workers.
Formation of the American Federation of Labor
New York in the 1880s had a large immigrant population. Immigrants lived in crowded slums (poor neighborhoods) and worked in sweat-shops (factories known for unsafe working conditions and low wages). Often, the sweatshops also served as immigrants' apartments.
One industry that was made up of a large number of immigrants was cigar production. Several cigar-making shops employed nearly one hundred people, including sales clerks and managers. The actual work, however, was done by thousands in the sweatshops.
One worker, Samuel Gompers (1850–1924), worked at one of the bigger cigar shops in New York. Gompers was born in London, England, to Jewish parents who had emigrated to Holland. He learned how to make cigars at a young age. When he moved with his family to America in 1863, he relied on his skills to earn a living. By 1885, having earned a reputation as a dependable worker with a serious mind, Gompers was elected president of Cigar Makers International Union Local 144.
In 1886, the New York Cigar Manufacturers' Association cut wages. Local 144 of the Cigar Makers Union and the other cigar union, Progressive No.1 of KOL, protested. When cigar manufacturers ordered a lockout of ten thousand workers, Progressive No. 1 negotiated and settled with the employers. Local 144 did not give in. As president, Gompers felt betrayed by Powderly and the KOL and accused them of not having the best interests of the workers in mind. Gompers persuaded the Cigar Makers to boycott all other cigars.
The conflict between the two unions gave the crafters unions (skilled laborers) the opportunity they had been waiting for to confront the KOL. The Knights, still focused on improving the rights of the unskilled laborer, ordered all members of the Cigar Makers International to resign or give up their KOL membership. On December 8, 1886, forty-two members from twenty-five different labor unions met and formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The labor movement had a new leader.
Unlike the KOL, the AFL acknowledged that each trade within its membership had autonomy (the ability to make its own specific rules and regulations). The executive committee would not interfere in each trade union's internal affairs, but it would have the right to resolve disputes. The AFL demanded dues (regular payments) to create a strike fund. That money would be paid to workers on strike, though the amount would not equal their usual pay. Soon city and state federations of the AFL were formed to promote labor legislation.
Gompers was elected the AFL's first president in 1886. With the exception of one year, he kept that position until his death thirty-eight years later. His office was a very small room; in it were his "chair" (an overturned shipping crate), his "desk" (a kitchen table), and his "filing cabinet" (a set of tomato boxes). From these humble surroundings, he drafted charters, collected monies, organized conventions, and edited the AFL's newspaper. He was a popular president who never lost communication with the laborers.
Despite Gompers's popularity, the AFL's growth was slow. The membership in 1886 was 150,000. By 1892, it had increased by just another hundred thousand. Despite the slow rise in membership, however, the AFL offered the first real stability to labor unions in existence. That stability attracted four railway brotherhoods, which had learned their lesson in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Other labor unions joined because the AFL offered health insurance and other benefits that many laborers considered as important, if not more so, than mere wages. Those laborers who disagreed with the philosophy and mission of the KOL left the Knights in favor of the AFL. With its lowest membership ever in 1900, the KOL eventually disappeared.
The strikes of the decade
The labor movement of the 1890s was marked by two major strikes: one in the steel mills of Pennsylvania, the other in the railroad industries of Chicago.
The Homestead Strike
Homestead, Pennsylvania, was a steel mill town with a population of more than ten thousand people. Of those inhabitants, just over thirty-four hundred were employed by Carnegie Steel Company. Of those employees, eight hundred were skilled and earned an average of $2.43 for a twelve-hour shift, or roughly twenty cents an hour. Unskilled laborers earned fourteen cents an hour.
In 1889, these wages were paid on a sliding scale that was dependent on the market price being paid for steel. This means that the higher the market price (the price paid to the steel companies by other businesses who bought their product) being paid, the higher the wages would be. If the market price dropped, so did wages. But twenty and fourteen cents an hour was the average.
This agreement between management and labor was due to expire on June 30, 1892. Of the eight hundred skilled workers, all but twenty were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. These union members were expecting better terms upon expiration of the old contract. Their expectations did not seem unrealistic. Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), owner of the mill, had publicly empathized with (claimed to understand) strikers in other industries. He even implied that he understood how their frustration led to violence.
Carnegie was out of the country in 1892 visiting his homeland of Scotland. Negotiations were in the hands of Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919), chairman of Carnegie Steel. Frick was known for his hard-hearted antiunion attitude. He had no patience for workers who complained and would not tolerate rebellion in any form.
The union would not accept the new contract proposed by Carnegie Steel as it required workers to accept an 18 to 26 percent decrease in wages. Union leader Hugh O'Donnell (c. 1863–?) met with Frick throughout June in the hopes of reaching a compromise that both sides could accept. Frick refused to consider any negotiations. Instead, he ordered the construction of a solid-wood fence topped with barbed wire built around the mill. Workers soon called it "Fort Frick."
As meetings continued to be held without progress, frustrated workers made dummies that looked like Frick and superintendent J. A. Potter and hung them on mill property. Potter sent men to tear down the dummies, but Carnegie employees turned the water hoses on them. Frick used this event as an excuse to order a lockout (an event in which workers are forbidden to work and are refused pay). In addition to the 3 miles of fencing he had built, Frick contacted Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He paid $5 a day to each of three hundred detectives to act as guards at the mill. The detectives arrived on July 6. By this time, workers had already barricaded themselves inside the steel plant.
Frick never had the chance to carry out his plan to hire strikebreakers. Citizens of the town joined Carnegie Steel's displaced workers and confronted the Pinkerton detectives just outside the mill. With both sides armed, they battled on July 6 from 4 am until 5 pm. It is not clear who fired the first shot but when gunfire had ceased, seven strikers and three detectives were dead, with numerous others injured. The strikers surrendered, andonJuly12, eightthousandstate troops marched into Homestead and took control.
Public opinion initially presumed that Carnegie Steel was at fault in this dispute. In truth, both sides were guilty of taking the law into their own hands. America was disturbed that a labor-management disagreement could escalate into bloody warfare between one of the nation's most powerful companies and one of the most highly respected labor unions. However, as details of the strike were reported to the public, sentiment turned against the labor union. Most citizens believed the workers behaved brutally and used unnecessary violence in the confrontation.
The tension between company and union worsened on July 23, when anarchist Alexander Berkman (1870–1936) shot and stabbed Frick in his office. Frick was not seriously injured, and Berkman was caught. That incident put an end to the steel union. Even though Berkman was not a union member, the public was unaware of this fact and perceived his attack on Frick as merely another strategy waged by the union against management. It would be another forty years before the steel industry formed a new labor union.
Carnegie's Homestead plant reopened on July 27 with a thousand new workers under the protection of the military. The company pressed charges against O'Donnell and the strikers, but no jury would find them guilty. Both sides decided to drop the matter. The strike officially ended on November 20, 1892. Three hundred locked-out employees were rehired and joined the newly hired workers in the mill. Under their new contract, former employees worked longer hours at a lower hourly wage than they had before the strike. Most of the strikers who were not rehired were blacklisted and found themselves unable to get jobs in the steel industry. The strike did nothing but hurt the reputation of labor unions throughout the country.
Although Carnegie privately wrote letters to Frick in support of Frick's handling of the affair, Carnegie publicly implied that Frick was responsible for the tragic events stemming from the strike and asked him to resign as chairman. In spite of his departure from the steel firm, Frick was rewarded handsomely when Carnegie bought Frick's stocks in the company for $15 million.
The Pullman strike
Two years after the Homestead strike, Chicago workers in the railway industry found themselves facing a similar situation. George Pullman (1831–1897) founded the town of Pullman, Illinois (just south of Chicago), in 1880. He opened a railroad-car manufacturing plant there. Pullman was just 300 acres in size, but it was home to factories, mills, and a foundry (where iron and steel are made into usable products) as well as homes, public buildings, and shops. Pullman's twelve hundred residents had no choices in their lives. The money they spent on rent (Pullman's homes could be rented, not owned), food, gas, and anything else went directly to the Pullman Palace Car Company. As in the patch towns miners lived in, prices in Pullman were higher than they were elsewhere.
Pullman's company was successful. At the end of 1893, he was paying $7.22 million in wages and another $2.52 million in dividends (monies paid to stockholders). America was hit with another economic depression that year, and it would last until 1897. During that time, Pullman fired more than three thousand workers and cut the wages of those still in his employment. He did not lower the cost of housing or services, though. Once those deductions were taken from wages, most employees were left with $6 a week on which to live. One worker was left with two cents each week. And yet the company continued to pay its shareholders the regular dividend amounts.
In May 1894, Pullman listened as a committee of dissatisfied employees complained about the situation. He refused to consider raising wages or lowering prices of rent and services in the town. Pullman insisted that what he did as an employer should have no bearing on his role as a landlord. Then, against a promise he had made earlier, he fired three of the workers on the committee. This breach of promise led to the Pullman local union strike on May 11.
When the union declared the strike, Pullman immediately fired the six hundred workers who were not involved and closed its doors. History was on the side of business when it came to labor disputes. Pullman was prepared to wait out the strike, which he believed would not last long. Pullman workers realized how serious the situation was and approached the American Railway Union (ARU) for help. The ARU, under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926; see box), called for a boycott of all Pullman cars on June 26, 1894. One hundred fifty thousand railway workers across the country complied, and within a couple days, trains were not leaving Chicago.
Business was negatively affected by the Pullman strike, as was mail delivery and transportation in general. This strike affected not just Chicago or even all of Illinois, but the entire nation. Railroad companies had no choice but to call on the government for assistance in breaking the strike. When Illinois governor John Altgeld (1847–1902) refused to summon military troops and made clear his sympathies lay with the strikers, the railroads went directly to the federal level. When a federal circuit court order demanding workers return to their jobs was ignored by Debs, he was arrested and found guilty of contempt of court and conspiracy to interfere with the mail and served a six-month jail sentence.
President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) did what no president before him had ever done: He intervened in a labor strike. On July 4, he sent in twenty-five hundred federal troops to halt the strike. Rioting occurred on July 7–9 when strikers attacked the military troops. Soldiers responded with gunfire at point-blank range. About thirty strikers were killed and many more were wounded. What began as twenty-five hundred federal troops soon totaled fourteen thousand as state and other federal troops joined in the confrontation. The strikers were defeated within the week. After several weeks of negotiating, the Pullman Palace Car Company reopened its doors on August 2. As part of the agreement, strikers were allowed to return to work unless they had been convicted of a crime during the strike.
Again, the conflict did not benefit the workers. Debs went to prison, the ARU disbanded, and American society supported big business and management more unwaveringly than ever before. It seemed that no matter how they tried to improve their conditions, trade unions were not going to win the favor of the American people.
Promises of the future
Laissez faire (lack of government interference) capitalism was America's reality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and unless they found a way to effectively fight for justice, the working class could never hope for a better future. The Molly Maguire scandal, the Haymarket Square riot, the Homestead and Pullman strikes: These were reminders that power was in the hands of the wealthy. The majority of laborers still worked between fifty-four and sixty-three hours each week, sometimes even longer.
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) offered hope. By 1901, 75 percent of all trade union members were also members of the AFL. Its leader, Samuel Gompers, remained opposed to allowing unskilled workers into the AFL, partly because the socialists favored it.
Socialists in America continued to fight capitalism. When the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) tried to take over the KOL and the AFL in the 1890s, it failed. Jewish laborers, tired of the authoritarian (controlling) attitude of the SLP, severed ties with the organization in 1897 and 1898. Their leaders joined Eugene Debs in founding the Socialist Party of America in 1901.
Although progress was slow for the labor movement, most of the important gains were made in state and federal legislation. Congress passed the Erdman Act in 1898, which stated that railroads could not discriminate against union members. Between 1886 and the end of the century, reform took place in areas that included child labor, women's labor, negotiation guidelines, the eight-hour workday, safety conditions, and responsibility for accidents. (See Chapter 8 for more on labor reform.)
Before reforms were made, there was one industry still plagued by bitter and often violent
Eugene Debs: Energetic Socialist
Eugene Victor Debs was born on November 5, 1855, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He left school in his midteens to work the Indiana railroad yards and soon became a locomotive fireman and leader of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (BLF), a labor union. Debs was laid off during the 1873 depression and took a job in the grocery business. He kept this position until 1879, when he was elected city clerk. He would remain in the clerkship for four years before his work with the labor union took all of his time. Although he remained fond of the railroads and those who worked them, Debs never worked for the railroad again.
Debs was active as an officer in the BLF even after his job with the railroad ended. He was recording secretary of the Terre Haute chapter of the union and was named associate editor of its magazine in 1878. In 1880, he was elected as national grand secretary-treasurer of the BLF as well as editor-in-chief of the magazine.
Debs was a gifted speaker and used his skill to convince laborers of the advantages of cooperating with management and government up until the mid-1880s. His philosophy changed in 1886 when the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroads endured a year-long strike. Debs began to question the effectiveness of unions that were developed by individual craft lines (rather than along industry lines). Debs came to the conclusion that industry unions were more powerful in the struggle against giant corporations and big business.
With renewed energy, Debs resigned from his position and organized the American Railway Union (ARU). The ARU was open to anyone in the railway industry, regardless of skill level. Debs's involvement in the Pullman strike of 1894 as leader of the ARU landed him a six-month jail sentence for conspiracy to interfere with mail and contempt of court. This marked a turning point in Debs's life, one that led him from cooperationist (someone with an attitude of cooperation) to revolutionary (a citizen who organizes with other like-minded citizens to fight the government and/or society).
Debs's new philosophy was based on socialism. Socialism is a system in which the government owns and operates business and production as well as the distribution of wealth. It is the opposite of capitalism (which is what the American economy is based on), a competitive system in which business and production are privately owned and profit is the motive. Debs helped establish the Social DemocraticPartyin1897asanalternativeto the more traditional political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. The Social Democratic Party eventually was renamed the Socialist Party of America. Debs ran for president four times in the early twentieth century. Though unsuccessful, the Socialists did manage to win many state and local elections. By 1916, however, the Socialist Party lost what little influence it had on American politics.
Debs publicly spoke out against World War I (1914–18) when to do so was a violation of the Espionage Act. During that time, it was against the law to incite opposition to U.S. involvement in any conflict. Debs was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison. From his cell, he ran for president for a fifth and final time in 1920. For the second time, he received nearly one million votes.
Debs was pardoned (freed from penalty) and released from prison on December 25, 1921, by President Warren G. Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23). The president freed a total of twenty-four prisoners of conscience (people imprisoned because of their beliefs, as long as they did not promote violence) that day. The socialist movement of which Debs had been a part no longer existed. A new generation of social reformers was established in the 1930s, however. Historians credit Debs and his followers for the socialist policies that made up the economic plan, called the New Deal, of President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). Debs suffered from deteriorating health while in prison and after his release; he died on October 20, 1926.
disputes: coal mining. The slaughter of the alleged Molly Maguires did nothing to suppress miners and laborers from striking. If anything, it only increased their determination to be treated fairly. In the late 1890s, miners' wages had been cut due to a price war between competing mines. In 1897, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union tried to restore wages. Most mine operators were willing to negotiate, but some were not. At that point, the UMWA ordered miners throughout the state to strike. Membership in the UMWA was at ten thousand, but nearly one hundred thousand miners joined the strike.
The anthracite coal strikes of
1900 and 1902
Anthracite (hard) coal mining was much more treacherous and difficult than bituminous (soft) coal mining. Anthracite coal lay deeper beneath the earth's surface, and it was harder to pick out of the mines. Records of miners' deaths were not kept until 1870, but they show that between thirty-two thousand and thirty-five thousand men died in Pennsylvania anthracite coal mines between 1870 and the early twentieth century. John Mitchell (1870–1919) was a bituminous coal miner from Illinois when he was elected president of the UMWA in 1898. He had taken part in the successful strike of 1897, which resulted in better wages and working conditions for the miners.
As president of the UMWA in 1900, Mitchell tried to negotiate with anthracite coal mine operators in Pennsylvania for a settlement similar to the bituminous coal miners' settlement three years before. The mine operators refused to negotiate, so Mitchell called for a strike on September 17. Eighty percent of all anthracite coal miners joined in the strike. It did not last for long. On October 29, 1900, the strike ended in victory for the miners, who received a 10 percent wage increase, their first in twenty years. Still, mine operators refused to recognize the UMWA as their employees' representative.
By 1902, the UMWA was ready to order another strike. The 10-percent wage increase granted in 1900 was only a temporary solution to the grievances of the miners. Work conditions were still poor and dangerous, and the days were still long. The UMWA was still not officially recognized by mine operators.
On May 12, 1902, anthracite coal miners walked off the job; the strike had officially begun. This bold move had far-reaching effects. Anthracite coal was used as fuel for trains, running factories, and heating homes and businesses. The strike may have been limited to Pennsylvania, but all of America would feel the consequences.
Newspaper coverage of the strike only fed into America's fears of a coal shortage for the coming winter. Cartoonists and journalists alike focused on the power struggle between mine management and laborers. October arrived, and it was apparent the strikers were not going to give up; America knew drastic measures had to be taken.
On October 3, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) called union leaders and mine operators to a meeting at the White House. UMWA president Mitchell agreed to negotiate, but the mine operators refused. Weeks passed and no progress was made on either side. America needed its coal to survive the impending winter and keep its factories and trains running. Roosevelt made history by becoming the first president to get involved in the arbitration of a labor dispute. He threatened to have the U.S.
Mother Jones: Fearless Activist
Mary Harris Jones (1837–1930) was born in Ireland and came to the United States as a young woman. She met and married George Jones, who, along with their four children, died of yellow fever in 1867. Jones moved to Chicago and lost everything she owned four years later in the Great Chicago Fire.
Jones needed to support herself so she joined the Knights of Labor. In 1905, she helped found a union called Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies. Jones was an organizer of labor strikes throughout America but had a particular fondness for miners and their cause.
Jones worked not only with miners themselves but with their wives and children. She would organize mining families to participate in demonstrations and protests on behalf of the miners. Women and children carrying mops and brooms marched at the mines, preventing strikebreakers from crossing the line into the mine shafts. Jones earned the nickname "Mother" when she began calling the miners her "boys."
Mother Jones embraced socialism and worked closely with American Railway Union leader Eugene Debs. An enthusiastic public speaker, she was known for organizing public events to get the media focused on striking workers. Her tireless efforts on behalf of working men and women took her to the coal mines of Pennsylvania, where she encouraged miners to join the union.
Opponents of Jones called her the most dangerous woman in America; her physical courage was known throughout the nation. She joined in protests, many of which ultimately resulted in her arrest. Jones spent time in more jails throughout the country than any other labor activist in history.
It may be surprising to know that Jones was against women's suffrage (the right to vote). She believed that a focus on winning the vote would take away much-needed attention to the economic situation of working-class women. Jones discussed this in her autobiography, The Autobiography of Mother Jones. "You don't need a vote to raise hell, you need convictions and a voice."
Mother Jones died in 1930 at the age of ninety-three, though she claimed she was one hundred years old. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, and thousands of miners and their families attended her funeral. Her name lives on as the title of a political magazine that supports socialism. Jones is remembered as the "Grandmother of All Agitators."
Army seize the coal mines and operate them until the owners agreed to negotiate. Mine management did not want this to happen, so they backed down and agreed to arbitration (discussion with the laborers). Roosevelt appointed financier J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) to head a commission to arbitrate the dispute. On October 23, after 164 days of striking, miners returned to work. They received a 10 percent increase in wages and a reduction in the number of hours worked each day. To their disappointment, their union was still not recognized as their representative, and the issues of hazardous working conditions and child labor were not addressed.
The strike marked a major turning point in history. It was the first time the federal government elected to settle a strike rather than break it. Although it would be another decade before labor reform truly took hold, the laborers finally felt they were beginning to be heard.
The Ludlow massacre
Unfortunately, the 1902 coal strike was not the last. In September 1913, more than ten thousand coal miners went on strike in Ludlow, Colorado. Led by the UMWA, the workers demanded, among other things, union recognition, a wage increase, enforcement of the eight-hour-day law as well as state mining laws, and the right to choose where they shop and live.
The leader among mine operators was Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, owned by John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937). (See more about Rockefeller in Chapter 2.) Rockefeller had the miners and their families evicted from company housing and used the National Guard to keep the mines operating.
Without shelter, the mining families set up tents in the hills and continued striking throughout the winter. Conditions were harsh, and food was scarce. But Rockefeller showed no sign of changing his mind; arbitration would not take place.
April 20, 1914, was Easter on the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Greek immigrants among the miners were celebrating. Despite the strike, the mood around the tent camp that morning was festive. At 10 am, however, Colorado troops surrounded the camp and opened fire on the miners' tent colony, which had been set up on public property. Company guards, strikebreakers, private detectives, and soldiers had planned the attack. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun called the Death Special. As bullets sprayed through the colony, tents caught on fire. Later, investigations revealed that kerosene had been poured on the tents.
By day's end, twenty people, including two women and eleven children, were dead. Three strikers were taken prisoner and executed. None of the attackers were ever punished, although hundreds of the miners were arrested and blacklisted (forbidden to find work) in the coal industry. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874–1960), who by this time was in charge of the mine, denied the massacre ever occurred and publicly stated that no women or children died in what he called a fight that was started by the miners. He spent the next decade trying to repair the damage done by the Ludlow massacre to the Rockefeller name. Gradually, he came to acknowledge the atrocity of the massacre, and through his efforts to right the wrongs that had been done, Rockefeller increased the social awareness of his entire family. The Rockefellers would eventually become one of the most phil-anthropic (generous, through charitable donations) families in America.
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Campbell, Patrick. A Molly Maguire Story. Jersey City, NJ: P. H. Campbell, 1992.
Cashman, Sean Dennis. America in the Gilded Age. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
Kuchta, David. Once a Man, Twice a Boy. Nesquehoning, PA: Kiwi Publishing, 1999.
Painter, Nell Irvin. Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987.
Poliniak, Louis. When Coal Was King. Lancaster, PA: Applied Arts Publishers, 2004.
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