The 1913 Copper Country strike is part of a larger national labor movement | News, Sports, Jobs
The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company Directors’ Report for 1913 stated that the company owned 903 houses, which were rented at approximately $1.00 per room per month, which included all repairs and garbage removal. All houses, according to the report, had running water and the vast majority had stone or concrete basements.
The company also leases 969 lots, at $5.00 per year, on which the men have built their own homes. That nearly a thousand men built their own homes on company-owned land was a statement of the faith that C&H employees had placed in the company.
The report, published in 1914 for the year ending December 31, 1913, said that due to labor shortages for the first six months of the year hampered production on the Keasarge business Lode and that all work had been stopped due to the strike that began on July 23.
The report also stated that less than 15% of the company’s employees had joined the union, the Western Federation of Miners, and many of them had been coerced into joining through intimidation. It was also reported that during the strike, 95% of the employees petitioned management not to recognize the WFM or employ its members.
Although it may seem like a stretch, the company’s second vice president, James MacNaughton, discussed the petitions during his testimony at the congressional hearings on the strike, then presented them to the hearings committee.
One of the petitions, MacNaughton testified, from employees of Calumet & Hecla Mining Co., contained more than 4,300 names and was dated December 31, 1913. The petition said, in part: “…We do not want to work with any male member of this organization (Western Miners’ Federation), because of what they have been doing for the past five months. We also believe that the company should take steps to get these men out of company houses and give them to working men.
C&H’s 1913 annual report stated: “The public opinion of 90,000 inhabitants of the land of copper”, the report stated, “expressed repeatedly in public meetings, representing all categories of jobs and companies, has categorically disapproved of the introduction into the community of an organization whose history, principles and recent performance make it a threat continues for the peace and prosperity of the country.”
According to other testimony and documents, there was indeed a high percentage of Copper Country residents who publicly expressed their opposition to the union and its strike. But this requires some clarification. A high percentage of residents also sympathized with the strikers.
Underground conditions had become unacceptable and the number of fatal accidents underground continued to increase. This was not the cause why the striking men opposed as much as they opposed the union they had chosen to represent them.
The evidence admitted into the record of the congressional hearings does not exactly reflect this view, however.
A report compiled by George E. Nichols, Special Prosecutor, dated February 17, 1914, included a long list of criminal cases against various strikers, charges ranging from carrying concealed weapons to assault with intent to kill and murder. Following the list was a log of charges dismissed.
“At this term of the court”, The Nichols report stated, “The conditions were such that it was nearly impossible for us to secure a conviction, as the juries seemed to align themselves on the issue from their perspective on the strike, rather than the actual facts in the case presented. .”
The report included the annual reports of each of the subsidiaries under the direction of C&H, which each contained the same general state of play, including this one in the Allouez company report: “As many of the strikers are occupying company houses and have not been evicted, it was deemed necessary to build three new houses to accommodate new men.”
The Ahmeek company report contained the same sentence, but in this report it was stated “pensions”.
During the hearings, MacNaughton gave one of the many reasons for refusing to recognize the WFM was due to its history of violence and the violence its members have committed in the Copper Country since the strike began.
To be fair, MacNaughton did not mention the violence committed against the strikers by guards hired by the company, the best known of which became known as the Seeberville Murders.
In August 1913, a Croatian boarding house in the Seeberville neighborhood adjacent to Painesdale was burned down by six deputies and guards hired by the Champion Mining Company to protect the mine property. The attack resulted in the death of two boarders inside the house.
In December, three strikers fired guns into a boarding house in Painesdale, killing two boarders and the boarding house operator.
The list of assaults, attacks, shootings and other acts was common to both sides of the strike, but MacNaughton did not discuss them. Congressional hearings contain pages of testimony from victims of violence.
The violence associated with the Copper Country Strike of 1913, however, was not unique during the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Philip Taft and Philip Ross, authors of “Labor Violence in the United States: Its Causes, Character, and Result”, The History of Violence in America: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, said the United States had the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world.
Much of the violence is attributed to socialist revolutionaries who got their start in the late 1800s.
Taft and Ross wrote that in the 1880s a branch of anarchism emerged which claimed a connection to organized and unorganized labor and advocated individual terror and revolution by force, called “propaganda by deed”.
“First promulgated at the Anarchist Congress in Berne, Switzerland, in 1876”, they wrote, “(it) was based on the assumption that peaceful appeals were insufficient to awaken the masses.
This view could be interpreted as a call for workers to create their own independent institutions, such as trade unions, mutual aid societies, and production and consumer cooperatives. However, almost from the start, this doctrine was interpreted to mean engaging in insurrectionary and putschist activities, and in terror directed against the individual.
It was little different in copper country, as Eastern European and Scandinavian immigration increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the time, unions were considered “Red” or socialist, which many of them were. But at the same time, as MacNaughton had pointed out in his testimony, he did not consider the vast majority of Copper Country members WFM socialists. And chances are they weren’t.
They were using the union as a means of collective bargaining to get what they thought was a “best deal.”
On the part of American industrialists and government, however, including C&H, they viewed the strike more as a socialist attack on capitalism and democratic institutions.
Compared to labor strikes in other mining districts, the Copper Country Strike of 1913 was not a particularly violent strike.
What became known as the Battle of Blair Mountain, which took place in the Tug River coal mine area of West Virginia (of Hatfield and McCoy), from August 25 to September 2, 1921, was been the largest armed labor uprising since the American Civil War.
The coal mine strikers formed what was called the miners’ army, numbering several thousand.
The Logan County Sheriff, a man named Chafin, was in the pay of the coal companies, in five days operating 12 miles, fought off the miners with machine guns and dropped bombs on them from airplanes. The battle finally ended when federal troops were brought in to smash the army, whose members were called “insurgents”.