Joint Council 3 states are pioneers of labor history

By Steve Vairma
Every year on the anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre we are reminded that states within Teamsters Joint Council 3 – with smaller populations than their coastal and Midwestern neighbors – have nonetheless participated in events that have had significant influence on the course of American labor history.

At Ludlow, 104 years ago on April 20, 1914, 18 innocent men, women and children were killed about 20 miles north of Trinidad, Colorado. At the time, coal miners in Colorado and other western states were being organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The long standing organizing drive was bitterly opposed by coal companies, often in collusion with state governments.

The Ludlow victims were killed by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards and thugs hired as private detectives and strikebreakers. The attack on the striking miners and their families claimed the most lives in the western mining disputes, which occurred from the 1880s until the Great Depression. At the time there was more violent labor unrest in our part of the country due to coal mining activity than in any other section of the country.

Here are some examples:
1892—Coal miners strike in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.
1886—State militia sent to break miners’ strike in Leadville, CO.
1894—First time in history a state militia is called to Cripple Creek, CO, to protect miners’ from deputy sheriffs.
1903—Utah coal strike begins.
1908—Free speech fight starts in Butte, MT.
1914—Colorado militia and striking miners fight at Dansville. Six union members were killed. 15 arrested and 79 deported to Kansas two days later.
1914—A strike by the Western Federation of Miners is crushed at Butte, MT.
1915—Legendary labor leader Joe Hill is arrested in Salt Lake City, UT. He was executed 21 months later on trumped up charges.
1916—Arizona copper strike starts.
1916—Several thousand armed vigilantes force about 1200 workers into manure-lade box cars and deported to the New Mexico desert. The action was precipitated by a strike when workers’ demands (including improvements to safety and working conditions at the local copper mines, an end to discrimination against labor organizations and unequal treatment of foreign and minority workers, and the institution of a fair wage system) went unmet.
1917—IWW leader Frank Little is lynched in Butte, MT.
1927—Picketing coal miners marching under the banner of the Industrial Workers of the World are massacred in the Columbine mine massacre in the company town of Serene, Colorado. Six strikers are killed and many more injured.
1933—New Mexico miners’ strike begins.

Ludlow and these other battles should remind us that our unions were fighting mightily for workers rights when the labor movement was in its infancy and had few weapons other than the enduring human desire to better one’s standard of living. It is ironic that the often deadly battles that struggling workers won—and lost—gave impetus to union organizing in other more populous areas of the country.

“Organizing the unorganized” was, of course, the credo of the early labor movement; and it still is; thankfully, though, without the bloodshed and violence of the old days.

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