What Labor and Unions Did for You

I found the story of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, and it spoke to me.

Here’s a brief synopsis from the excellent piece above:

“… the Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners, [which] was one of the most brutal attacks on organised labour in North American history.

It was the pinnacle of efforts by the National Guard and local strike-breakers under the command of the Rockefeller family to suppress a strike of twelve thousand workers.

In fewer than 100 years, we Americans have grown fat and complacent, secure in our 40 hour workweek, our paid sick time, paid vacation and all the rules about safe workplaces, Family Leave, disability etc.  And we have not only forgotten how we American workers got those things, but we have disgracefully turned against those who paid with their lives to get them for us, calling union members “thugs” and “moochers” and accusing them of ripping off the taxpayers with their fatcat benefits and excessive salaries.

The miners in Ludlow, Colorado most certainly were not “thugs” and “moochers.” They worked hard, literally worked their lives away for pennies a day – which wasn’t even paid to them in real money, but in company “scrip” – most of which they were forced to give back to the company in the form of rent for company shacks and the purchase of food and supplies from the company store. And not only that, the company cheated them on the weight of the coal they mined, shorting them by weighing their coal on rigged scales. These miners and their families lived an almost unimaginably wretched, hardscrabble existence, and if a man was hurt down in the dark and dangerous  mines, he was simply discarded as one would toss a broken shovel.

And what of the injured man and his family?

The Rockefeller company man with his shining leather handmade shoes and plump, white manicured hands would shake his head – carefully, so as not to disarrange his gleaming, expensively barbered hair –  sadly and say, “Not the Company’s responsibility, I’m afraid. If that man’s family starves, well, these things happen, don’t they? That man should have been more careful, oughtn’t he?” Then the company man with his plump white hands would admire his glittering diamond pinkie ring, perhaps polish it on his silk monogrammed handkerchief, straighten his silk tie, and shrug his shoulders into his expensively tailored handmade wool suit, pour himself an expensive cognac into a crystal snifter and turn away, having consigned that wretched man and his wretched family and starving children to their proper place in the world – that of insignificance.

The miners of Ludlow had had enough, and they decided to take a stand and join the United Mine Workers of America, no matter what it cost them. And it did cost them. The governor, of course, sided with the Rockefellers (does this sound familiar?), and called in the National Guard – not to protect the strikers, but to force them back to work. And when the cost of the National Guard became too onerous for the good governor, the Rockefellers sent in their own private army with orders stop the strike at all costs.

And they did. The miners had been turned out of their company housing, meagre as it was, and were living in tents with their families in the dead of winter. The strike breakers (such an innocuous term to describe such a brutal mission), men from the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency and the Colorado militia, fired on the tent city where the miners and their children were living, and eventually, under the cover of darkness, doused the tents with kerosene and burned them down. The miners had dug foxholes in the ground inside their tents to protect themselves and their wives and children from the bullets being fired at them, and when the fire swept the tent city, women and children were trapped in the pits and burned to death.

A total of 18 people were killed during the Ludlow Massacre so you can enjoy your ice cold beer and your backyard barbeque on this day – with pay.

And in remembrance, here is the list of those “union thugs” who died that day:

Louis Tikas, age: 30 years
James Fyler, age: 43 years
John Bartolotti, age: 45 years
Charlie Costa, age: 31 years
Fedelina Costas, age: 27 years
Onafrio Costa, age: 4 years
Frank Rubino, age: 23 years
Patria Valdez, age: 37 years
Eulala Valdez, age: 8 years
Mary Valdez, age: 7 years
Elvira Valdez, age: 3 months
Joe Petrucci, age: 4 ½ years
Lucy Petrucci, age: 2 ½ years
Frank Petrucci, age: 4 months
William Snyder Jr, age: 11 years
Rodgerlo Pedregone, age: 6 years
Cloriva Pedregone, age: 4 years

So, the next time you think of calling a union member a “thug,” remember little Elvira Valdez,  3 months old, and Frank Petrucci, 4 months old, who both died so you could enjoy the benefits of a safe workplace, a 40 hour week and a decent wage.