Labor History Articles
September 17, 2009
By Leslie F. Orear, President Emeritus, Illinois Labor History Society
A life of devotion to the pursuit of labor history came to an abrupt end on September 15th with the death of William J Adelman, a founder of the Illinois Labor History Society and its Vice President. The cause of death was a heart attack.
Adelman began his professional career as a high school history teacher. Later Professor Adelman joined the faculty of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
He was one of the few academics offering a labor history perspective in the Chicago region during the 60s and 70s. His lectures, seminars and tours to labor sites became extremely popular, particularly in the labor union community. His content was always designed to produce the maximum understanding of the historical roots of contemporary issues, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject was legendary.
As one of an informal group of labor attorneys, educators and editors he helped create the Haymarket Workers Memorial Committee which issued a call for a ceremony in Haymarket Square on May 1, 1969 to correct public misunderstanding of the "so-called" Haymarket riot. The success of that effort led to the incorporation of the Illinois Labor History Society and Adelman's election as Vice President that same year.
Aware of the need for better teaching tools, Adelman produced self-guided tours to the Pullman community where the great strike of 1894 had taken place and to areas associated with the Haymarket Tragedy of 1886. He continued the series with Pilsen and the West Side, including the Ashland Avenue neighborhood known as Union Row because of its numerous labor union headquarters. His visual works began in the 16mm days with "Packingtown USA" followed by "Palace Cars and Paradise," a walking tour of the Pullman community with Adelman himself as guide. Both have been transferred to video. Most of these materials are available today through the Illinois Labor History Society.
He served on the official public committee to select the sculptor for the Haymarket Memorial sculpture installed by the City of Chicago in Haymarket Square in 2004 after 35 years of agitation by the labor community. This historic event followed the naming of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Forest Home Cemetery as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. National Park Service in 1998. Adelman had urged such action at a conference held by the Park Service.
In May 2009, Adelman's "Haymarket Revisited" was republished in the English language by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in New Delhi with a foreword by its president, M.K. Pandhe. In this new version entitled "Glorious Saga of May Day Martyrs," Pandhe notes that he and his wife had been members of a Haymarket tour party in 2008. Pandhe declares: "...I must mention the remarkable guidance given by Prof. William J. Adelman.... For over two hours he narrated the entire background to us in a lucid manner which reflected his firm commitment to the working class and their legitimate struggles... I was deeply impressed. by the book ["Haymarket Revisited"] and thought that Indian readers should know about the glorious struggle of the Chicago workers."
Adelman was immediately informed when the book arrived at the ILHS office in late August of this year, but unfortunately he did not have the opportunity to see it before his untimely death.
Produced by The Democratic Party of Evanston
With the full-scale attack on collective bargaining launched by Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker, maybe you're wondering how to convince your colleagues, friends or family that unions deserve support. Or perhaps, frankly, you need to hear those arguments yourself. The case is clear: a vibrant, powerful labor movement makes for a better America. Here's the evidence, with links providing more information.
WHY UNIONS MATTER IF YOU ARE IN ONE
Your paycheck will be bigger. In nearly every occupation, union members earn more than non-union workers. Overall, union members earn nearly 30% more than non-union workers. If you're a woman, or a person of color, unions make an even bigger difference: Latino union members, for instance, earn over 50% more than their non-union counterparts. For low-wage workers, a union card can lift you out of poverty: non-union cashiers, for instance, earn wages that keep them below the poverty line, while union cashiers make more than $2400 above poverty guidelines.
Your health and pension benefits will be better. Nearly 85% of union members receive health insurance through their employers, compared to 55% of non-union workers. If you are a union member you are far more likely to have employer-sponsored retirement plans.
You'll get more time off. Union workers average 28% more vacation time than non-union workers.
You'll be safer, better informed, and more empowered. Unions actively communicate with their members about beneficial laws and ensure that protective regulations are enforced. Unionized workers are more likely to take advantage of workers' compensation, get their benefits faster, and return to work more quickly. Union members are more likely to receive unemployment insurance. Union workplaces are far more likely to receive OSHA inspections. Union workers are much more likely to know about, and benefit from, the provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act. Union members who are fired or disciplined because they missed work for family-care emergencies can turn to their unions for protection, and in many cases will overturn their punishment. Union members are more likely to receive overtime pay they've earned.
WHY UNIONS MATTER IF YOU'RE NOT IN ONE:
You earn more because unions exist. "Unions have set norms and established practices that become more generalized throughout the economy, thereby improving pay and working conditions for the entire workforce." This is especially true for those lacking college degrees (75% of the workforce), as high school graduates in unionized industries (even if they're in non-union shops) earn more than those in less-unionized segments of the economy. All workers benefit as well from labor's campaign to raise federal and state minimum wage provisions.
Your working conditions and benefits are better because unions have improved them. Unions have been the driving force propelling advances for all workers, like unemployment benefits, workers' compensation, improved treatment of immigrant workers, family leave, and safety regulations. Labor's victories are not for their members only: thanks to a 2008 union lawsuit, for instance, all workers who are required to wear safety gear on the job now must be provided that equipment by their employers, rather than paying for it themselves.
Unions strengthen the economy generally. "Analyses of the union effect on firms and the economy have generally found unions to be a positive force, improving the performance of firms and contributing to economic growth."
WHY UNIONS MATTER IF YOU'RE A PROGRESSIVE:
America is a more just and a more equal society because of the labor movement. Unions have provided the organizational savvy, the financial backing, and the foot soldiers to bring about crucial social reforms throughout our country's history. We can thank unions for social security, the 40-hour week, child labor prohibitions, farm worker protections and mine safety provisions, minimum wage laws, safer workplaces, and much more. Unions were integral to the civil rights movement and made possible the Equal Pay Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s.
Unions are still essential to progressive change. Enacting health care reform, codifying family leave time, protecting immigrant workers, safeguarding Social Security, combating discrimination -- labor remains on the front lines of these and many other ongoing battles. Unions constitute an indispensable advocate for the disadvantaged and the powerless; a stronger labor movement translates to more progressive legislation.
Unions constitute the principal bulwark against corporate political power. In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, unions are all we've got offsetting the floodtide of campaign cash coming from the Chamber of Commerce and its ilk. Even now, unions are far outspent by corporate PACs, and if labor declines even further, we will see fewer progressive candidates (or Democrats of any variety) elected to office.
Income inequality -- perhaps the most important issue of our time -- can be addressed only by strengthening the labor movement. Unions lift workers into the middle class and help counterbalance Wall Street's pervasive influence in Washington.
WHY UNIONS MATTER IF YOU'RE A CONSUMER OF GOODS & SERVICES:
Unions make workers' lives easier, which leads to better products, better care, and better service. Union workplaces see less turnover and provide more training, meaning a more experienced workforce. By negotiating for and enforcing limitations on workloads, unions allow teachers to maintain smaller classrooms, keep case loads for social workers manageable, make it possible for hotel maids to clean rooms more thoroughly, and ensure enough workers are on the job to clear our streets after snowfalls. Union workers, who can communicate more effectively with management about problems they encounter in the production process, produce higher quality goods.
Enforcement of union regulations makes things safer for workers, and for you. Firefighters and police officers' unions ensure public safety by fighting for proper staffing levels. Unions work to keep nurse-patient ratios manageable and to prohibit mandatory overtime for healthcare professionals, which makes a measurable difference: if you suffer a heart attack, you're less likely to die if the nurses who care for you are in a union. Airline pilot unions keep our skies and runways safer. Food and farm workers' unions lead the struggle to protect our food supply and keep pesticide use down.
WHY UNIONS MATTER IF YOU BELIEVE IN DEMOCARACY, DIGNITY, AND SELF-RESPECT:
Through the electoral process, we express our collective voice and shape our political destiny. Unions allow workers a collective voice with which they can affect their economic destiny. Collective bargaining allows workers some say over their wages, benefits, and working conditions -- in other words, those things central to the quality of life. Unions provide workers with an avenue for redress when they've been sexually harassed; when they've been passed over because of their race, gender, or ethnicity; when they've been disciplined for complaints about unsafe conditions. Unions empower people to speak out against unfair treatment and to speak up for their rights.
Unions make America work. Spread the word.
In the 19th century, the Knights of Labor adopt equal rights in the union for women.
When the Knights of Labor was formed in 1878, the delegates took what was then a very advanced step. The preamble to their constitution pledged, "To secure for both sexes equal pay for equal work." (A goal as yet to be achieved.) The Knights decided that all its activities would be the same for men and women, and that they might be in the same or separate union locals, as might seem best.
To appreciate the forward thinking of the Knights under the leadership of Terence Vincent Powderly, bear in mind that of the 30, or so, trade unions at the time, only the printers and cigar makers permitted female membership. Women workers responded all over the land. By 1886, when the Knights were at their peak, about 50,000 were women, around ten percent of the total. The first female assembly to be chartered was among Philadelphia shoemakers. The second was in Chicago and Elizabeth Roger was the Master Workman.
There were big strikes, too. On February 20, 1885, some 700 female Knights walked out of a Yonkers, N.Y. carpet mill after some had been fired for joining the organization. Soon all 2,500 women employees were out on strike. The Trade Unions of New York City came to their support. When the police jailed three women for "walking on the street," over 2,000 New Yorkers attended a great rally to honor the arrested women.
Women also rose in the leadership of the Knights. In Chicago, Elizabeth Rogers served for a period as Master Workman of the District Assembly, presiding over its 600 delegates representing 40,000 Knights. Among the Assemblies in Chicago identifiable as female or mixed, were the Clerks; Sewing Girls; Mattress Makers; Cloak Makers; Tailors; Coat Makers; Shoe Machine Hands; Waiters; and Dressmakers. Elizabeth Morgan was another woman leader. As the Knights began to fade in the wake of the tragic fiasco of Haymarket in 1886, Elizabeth Morgan reorganized her following as Federal Local 2703 of the AFL. Among its members were clerks, typists, candy makers, book binders, and dressmakers. Then, Morgan launched a vigorous membership campaign. Soon, she had organized twenty-two different AFL trade unions of women. Among them were the women watch makers of Elgin.
October 10, 2009 - by Michael G. Matejka, Vice-President, Illinois Labor History Society
When a worker is injured, they turn to workers' compensation for relief. It's not a perfect system, but it does provide financial support to pay doctor bills and compensate for time off work.
Imagine a world without workers' compensation. If someone was injured, they had to rely on family, friends, or corporate benevolence. In 1911, Illinois passed its first workers' compensation law. The passage of that law can be directly tied to a disaster in the tiny village of Cherry, Illinois.
In 1909 Cherry was a booming mining town. Almost 500 men and boys labored underground, mining coal to feed the locomotives of the Milwaukee Railroad. The mine was relatively new, having opened in 1905, featuring an underground electric lighting system.
On November 13, 1909, that electrical system failed. Miners went back to the old-fashioned method of torches and lanterns. Unfortunately, a small fire broke out in a hay wagon bringing feed to the mules underground. Because there was no quick action to extinguish it, the fire spread, as one misjudgment after another fueled the flames. Before the day was over, 259 miners laid dead, either from asphyxiation or immolation. Brave rescue attempts were made and a rescue crew also sadly perished. Twenty men retreated deep in the mine and sealed themselves off, surviving for a week underground before rescue.
The shock and outcry over Cherry led to political action and calls for mine safety legislation. As public donations came into the community, a review board was established, modeled after the recently passed British Workers' Compensation law, to hear claims from the bereaved families and survivors. The United Mine Workers helped serve on that committee. Approximately $1,800 was given to each surviving family in the summer of 1910. The next year, Illinois passed its first Workers Compensation Act. Thus workers would no longer have to simply rely on charity after an industrial accident.
This November 14-15, the Village of Cherry will commemorate the disaster and the miners. A full weekend of ceremonies is planned, free and open to the public.
On both days, there will be walking and trolley tours of the town, mine site and cemetery. Videos on labor topics are scheduled, along with displays and genealogical workshops. On Saturday, November 14, a new monument will be dedicated at Cherry's Village Hall. Chicago Fire Fighters' Local 2's color guard will lead the procession to the dedication. In 1909, Chicago fire fighters came to Cherry to help extinguish the blaze. Preceding the dedication, labor musician Bucky Halker will sing coal mining and labor songs.
Confirmed speakers for the dedication include Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, United Mine Workers Vice-President Steve Earl, Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, State Senator Gary Dahl and State Representative Frank Mautino. Confirmation is still pending on other speakers.
On Sunday, November 15, the tours and displays will continue. At 11:45 a.m., people will gather at the Cherry Grade School. For many years it was traditional for Cherry children to march to the cemetery on the disaster's anniversary. After a march to the cemetery, there will be speeches from Italian representatives. Many of the immigrant miners who died were recent arrivals to the U.S. from Italy. Speakers include Italian Consul General Alessandro Motta, Charles Bernardini, immediate past-president of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest – Chicago; and Silvia Bartolini, President of Emilia-Romagna Citizens Abroad.
Cherry is on Route 89, about five miles north of I-80, in Bureau County. The small village has kept alive the story of the workers who never came home. The events in Cherry are free and open to the public.
In 1894 the model town of Pullman became the storm center for one of the classic labor struggles in American social history. What began as a revolt of the Pullman Shops employees against wage cuts and oppressive company practices, escalated into a national railway workers' boycott directed against the handling of trains carrying Pullman cars. It was followed by federal intervention with almost half the U.S. Army at the service of the employers.
The use of army troops brought about a bitter dispute pitting the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago against President Grover Cleveland, who had ordered the troops sent in. And that led to the eventual defeat of Cleveland in his bid for renomination by the Democratic Party two years later. In the process of this epic tragedy, people were killed, the American Railway Union was destroyed, the Pullman workers were forced back to work on the company's terms, and George Pullman became a reviled caricature of the hard-hearted and unjust corporate Tycoon---all in order to keep labor in its place.
Recipe for Disaster
A "recession," as we would call it now, gripped the nation's economy beginning in 1893. Orders for Pullman cars fell off and management began a program of lay-offs and wage cuts. The cuts, applied not to managerial employees but only to the hourly workers, averaged 25 percent. Since Pullman wages were close to the subsistence level, it was a recipe for disaster. The situation was all the more desperate for the workers who lived in the town, because the company refused to lower the rents. Even more galling, the company made sure it collected the rents---right out of the pay! The company's control of the town (and the people in it) was close to absolute. Even the Green Stone Church was the company's property. Its use was rented out for religious services for a fee. Pullman expected the church building to earn the usual six percent return on investment. Indeed, George Pullman, expected the church building to be rented by various denominations, their services to operate much like the shifts in his shops.
A Money Machine
Everything he put his hand to made money. In 1880 he commenced building the shops and the town on 4,300 acres of land (about six square miles) which he had bought for 800,000 dollars. By 1892 it was valued at 5 million.
Some 12,000 people lived in the town, which ran according to Pullman's rules. No liquor could be sold except at the Florence Hotel, where workers hardly ventured. There were numerous regulations designed to reinforce the town's image of industrious decorum. In 1885 the illustrious Prof. Richard Ely wrote in Harper's Weekly that the power exercised by Bismarck (the unifier of Germany), was "utterly insignificant when compared with the ruling authority of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Pullman."
Declared one Pullman employee:
"We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell."
The Rev. William H. Carwardine, the Methodist minister in Pullman, characterized the town as a "civilized relic of European serfdom."
George Pullman Explains
Pullman rejected all those who considered him to be a benefactor or a philanthropist in his vision of the town. He described his intentions in practical business terms:
"That such advantages and surroundings made better workmen by removing from them the feeling of discontent and desire for change which so generally characterize the American workman; thus protecting the employer from loss of time and money consequent upon intemperance, labor strikes, and dissatisfaction which generally result from poverty and uncongenial home surroundings."
But Pullman failed to follow his own prescription. His wage cut policy during the winter of 1893-94 certainly induced "poverty and uncongenial home surroundings." Nor could the employees escape to lower rent housing in nearby Roseland, for the company gave employment preference to Pullman residents.
The Union Is Organized
Their recourse was to begin the formation of a local union of the American Railway Union in the Pullman shops. There were only about 3,300 workers left on the payroll in May of 1894, many of them on short hours. A 46-member committee from the union was sent to demand that Pullman rescind the cuts. They were met by Vice-President Thomas J. Wickes, and briefly addressed by George Pullman. He refused any action on the wage cuts, but promised to look into complaints about the behavior of foremen and other matters.
But, the very next day, May 10, 1894, three members of the committee were discharged. A mass meeting of the Pullman workers voted to strike. Picket lines were set up and production halted.
The strike wore on. George Pullman simply left town immediately after the meeting with the committee, heading to his summer home on the New Jersey seashore. In June, a national convention of the American Railway Union (ARU) took place in Chicago.
Rev. Carwardine Appeals
The delegates were addressed by the Rev. Carwardine, who described the worsening condition of the Pullman workers, and appealed for the convention to "act quickly, in the name of God and humanity." The convention sent a committee to see Wickes and propose arbitration of the dispute. Wickes refused.
Rebuffed in their efforts to resolve the dispute through arbitration, the ARU tried a new tactic. They voted to refuse to work any train that carried a Pullman car after June 26, unless the company had changed its position on arbitration.
Instead, the General Managers of the 24 railroads terminating in Chicago met with Wickes and agreed unanimously to support the Pullman Company and defy the ARU. Rail workers responded to the boycott call and would surely have prevailed in a matter of days, had not the Federal Government intervened on management's behalf.
Friends in High Places
Acting at the behest of his Attorney General, a former railroad attorney named Richard Olney, President Cleveland appointed a special counsel to deal with the strike on the grounds that U.S. mails were being impeded. Indeed they were, because the railroads were deliberately hooking Pullman cars to mail trains. Cleveland's choice for the special counsel was none other than Edward Walker, the attorney for the Milwaukee Railroad. Walker hired 4,000 strikebreakers and made them deputy marshals armed with badge and gun. Great masses of sympathetic workers, particularly in the Chicago area, responded by attacking the trains. There were casualties, trains were torched, and 12,000 federal troops deployed (approximately half the U.S. army), ostensibly to keep the peace, but surely to break the boycott.
The Strike Ends
An injunction was secured under which ARU president Eugene V. Debs and other leaders were sentenced to jail. On July 18, Pullman announced it would reopen the shops and hire only persons who would sign a "yellow dog" contract promising never to join a union while a Pullman employee. Thus ended the great Pullman Strike, but there were unexpected aftereffects. While serving his time in the Woodstock, Ill., jail, Debs decided that labor needed to win political power to match that of the employers. Accordingly, he became the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, receiving almost a million votes in 1912.
A young attorney for one of the railroads was outraged by the role of the General Managers. He quit the job, later to become a famous lawyer in the service of labor. His name was Clarence Darrow. Illinois Governor John P. Altgeld was incensed at Cleveland for putting the federal government at the service of the employers, and for rejecting Altgeld's plan to use his state militia to keep order, instead of federal troops. As the leader of the Illinois delegation to the Democratic Party Convention in 1896, Altgeld used his influence and blocked the renomination of Cleveland as the presidential candidate.
And George Pullman? He died two years after the strike, hated and fearful that even his tomb in Graceland Cemetery would be desecrated by an angry populace.
by Robin Bachin, Assistant Director of The Scholl Center, Newberry Library, Chicago
The National Park Service (NPS) Theme Study in American Labor History offered the Newberry Library a unique opportunity to negotiate the terrain between preservation, memory, and labor history. The process of determining national significance and finding extant sites for labor history has raised important questions about the relationship and compatibility of preservation and labor history.
Challenging the Labor History Theme Study is the need to merge the NPS criteria for preservation with recent scholarship on labor history, and make labor history visible through landmark preservation. The attempt to find a suitable site for recognizing the national significance of the 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago offers an interesting example of the difficulties in achieving this goal, but also in how doing so might help us broaden our understanding of memory, history, and authenticity.
Historians consider Haymarket one of the seminal events in the history of American labor. On May 1, 1886, close to 300,000 strikers nationwide and 40,000 in Chicago took part in demonstrations for the eight-hour day. This movement was part of an international struggle for workers' rights, and the heart of the movement was in Chicago, where the anarchist International Working Peoples' Association (IWPA) played a central role in organizing the May Day strikes. On May 4, members of the IWPA organized a rally at Haymarket Square to protest police brutality against striking workers on the South Side. As the last speaker finished his remarks, police marched in and demanded an end to the gathering. Then an unknown assailant threw a bomb into the crowd, killing and wounding several police officers and protesters. Police apprehended eight anarchists on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The trial and subsequent execution of four of the men--Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolf Fischer, and George Engel--has served as enduring symbol of labor's struggles for justice.
The importance of recognizing Haymarket's national significance for labor history forced us to select a suitable site to preserve as a National Landmark. The site of the Haymarket meeting and bombing, in Haymarket Square on the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and Randolph Street, lacks physical integrity, as a result of the construction of the Kennedy Expressway in the 1950s. We selected the Haymarket Martyrs monument and surrounding grave sites at Forest Home Cemetery (originally part of German Waldheim Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, to serve as the physical reminder of the importance of Haymarket. Yet, it is not only because the monument is extant and Haymarket Square is not that we chose to nominate the monument. Rather, the monument itself has become an icon of the labor movement that has taken on international historical significance beyond its role in commemorating the events of 1886.
The Haymarket Martyrs' Monument was dedicated on June 23, 1893 by the Pioneer Aid and Support Association, a group organized to support the families of the accused. The monument consists of a sixteen-foot-high granite shaft atop a two-stepped base, on which stand two bronze figures. The predominant figure is a woman who is standing over the other figure, a bearded male worker. The sculpture represents Justice placing a wreath on the head of a fallen worker. As Emma Goldman later explained, "The monument served as an embodiment of the ideals for which the men had died, a visible symbol of their works and their deeds."
The dedication ceremony was accompanied by huge festivities. Over 3,000 people marched from downtown Chicago to Waldheim Cemetery. Included in the parade were trade unionists, members of German Turns, musical groups, and others who were in Chicago for the World's Colombian Exposition and were curious about the spectacle. Organizers of the dedication presented speeches in English, German, Bohemian, and Polish, and the monument was garnished with flowers and banners sent from throughout the world. [Robin Bachin is correct, except that the folks took a series of special trains from the Polk Street Station in downtown Chicago to the cemetery in suburban Forest Park. - L Orear]
Chicago's labor community has held annual meetings at the monument since the time of its dedication. Tributes to the martyrs have taken the form of rallies, parades, speeches, and wreath laying. Labor leaders visiting the monument and speaking of its symbolism have included Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and Irving S. Abram. Prominent writers and poets, including Carl Sandburg, Vachell Lindsay, Ralph Chaplin, and Edgar Lee Masters commemorated the monument in their writings.
Perhaps the greatest testimony to the enduring legacy of the Haymarket incident is the continued desire of those associated with the labor movement to be buried alongside the Haymarket martyrs. Among those buried here are Joe Hill (1882-1915), William Haywood (1869-1928), Lucy Parsons (1859-1942), Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964), William Z. Foster (1881-1966), Emma Goldman (1869-1940), and Ralph Helstein (1908-1985).
The Haymarket Martyrs' Monument has provided a symbol through which various groups have been able to create a usable past and share pride in radical heritage. While the site where the Haymarket incident took place may be more "authentic" in its relationship to the event itself, the monument and cemetery symbolize the process of creating cultural heritage through a poignant, enduring legacy of collective identity. The Haymarket Monument's historical significance lies in its ability to promote Haymarket's legacy, to structure social memory, and to link present-day struggles to the past.
1850-1924, First President of the American Federation of Labor, 1886-1924
Samuel Gompers, for whom Gompers Park on Chicago's Northwest Side was named, was one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor in 1886. He was elected president, a position he held, except for one year, until his death 38 years later.
Under his leadership, the organization grew from a handful of struggling labor unions to become the dominant organization within the Labor Movement in the United States and Canada.
Gompers was born in London, England, on January 26, 1850. His parents were poor immigrant Jews from Holland. In London the young Sam was apprenticed to a shoemaker at age 10. He soon changed trades and became a cigar maker, a trade he brought with him to New York when his family emigrated to America in 1863.
Life was difficult in the crowded slums of New York. There were a few relatively large cigar making shops, perhaps, with as many as 75 employees; but much of the work was done in a thousand or more sweatshops, often the same crowded apartments where the workers lived. Thousands of little children worked in New York sweatshops and factories, as they helped their parents eke out a living.
By 1885, Sam Gompers had become highly skilled at his trade and was employed in one of the larger shops. He was respected by his fellow workers, mostly Germans, who elected him as president of Cigar Makers Union Local 144. He and the other officers were unpaid as they struggled to keep the union together in the face of mechanization and the flooding of the labor market by scores of new immigrants, largely Bohemian.
In 1881 Gompers was sent as the delegate of the Cigar Makers to a conference of various unions which created a loose confederation to be called the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Councils. Although without the title of President, as head of the legislative committee, Gompers became its leader, practically speaking; but the organization was structurally weak and ineffective.
Nevertheless, the need for close cooperation among like-minded labor organizations was abundantly evident; so the organization was reconstituted in 1886 as the American Federation of Labor. This time Gompers was the President. His office was not much more than an 8x10 room in a shed. His son was the office boy. There was $160 in the treasury. As Gompers said, it was "much work, little pay, and very little honor."
Four years later, the AFL represented 250,000 workers. In two more years the number had grown to over one million. Under Gompers, the guiding principle was to concentrate on collective bargaining with employers, and on legislative issues directly affecting the job. Broad social goals and political entanglements were left to others.
Gompers did have an interest in international labor issues. At the conclusion of World War I, he attended the Versailles Treaty negotiations, where he was instrumental in the creation of the International Labor Organization (ILO) under the League of Nations.
He was a supporter of trade unionism in Mexico and, though elderly and in failing health, he went to Mexico City to attend the inauguration of Mexico's reform President Calles; and, also, the Congress of the Pan-American Federation of Labor. It was at the Congress that his final collapse occurred. He was rushed to a hospital in San Antonio, Texas where he died on December 13, 1924.
Some questions to explore:
If the AFL was the "dominant" organization, what were the names of others, and what was their role?
What did/does the International Labor Organization do?
The Cigar Makers were an interesting early union. What can you find out about the trade and their organization? (The Cigar Makers in Chicago owned a large number of gravesites in Forest Home Cemetery (Waldheim) in Forest Park, ILL. There is a large memorial stone and many graves of union members.)
What are Bohemians?
Biographical sketch of Rabbi Jacob Weinstein and his connections with the cause of labor.
"And, what do you want to be when you grow up?" inquired the gentleman of the young newsboy who was peddling papers outside the Portland [Or.] Chamber of Commerce Building one day in about 1914.
The young fellow responded that he wanted to be a lawyer and help get the IWWs and other innocent people out of jail. It turned out that the 12-year-old Jacob Weinstein became a Rabbi instead; but he remained true to his concern for justice and the defense of the needy and oppressed.
The newsboy's customer just happened to be attorney Charles E. Wood, Portland's most prominent civil liberties defender, one of whose clients was no less than famed anarchist, Emma Goldman, who was certain to be arrested during her periodic agitational tours of the Northwest.
And so, the immigrant Jewish boy, not long off the boat from Poland, became the protege of a noted advocate of union organization and the First Amendment, in whose office the schoolboy listened to many a discussion of workers' rights, socialist thought, and American politics.
Years later, the boy became the young rabbi on his first job, in San Francisco, preaching support for striking longshoremen, or urging higher wages for department store employees to a congregation which included the owners of the stores!
Soon, his bags were packed and Rabbi Weinstein was in search of a new post with a congregation more receptive to those forms of social advocacy which were consistent with his reading of Jewish ethical thought. That congregation was to be Chicago's K.A.M. Temple, where he found both sympathy and encouragement.
During the years of World War II, Rabbi Weinstein served as public member of the Chicago area War Labor Board which arbitrated a crushing load of contract disputes between workers and their employers. This experience led to subsequent arbitration assignments in the labor relations field, and to an appointment by President Kennedy to the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and to the Business Ethics Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Commerce.
We do not know whether business ethics became any more enlightened from Rabbi Weinstein's instruction; but there can be no doubt that he felt welcome and relevant during his term of service on the Public Review Board of the United Auto Workers, established by Walter Reuther in 1957 to mediate and adjudicate disputes within the union. Among his colleagues on that Board were Msgr. George Higgins, chair of the Catholic Conference on Social Research; Prof. Frank McCulloch, formerly head of the Labor Education Division at Roosevelt University, and Dr. Robin Flemming, labor arbitrator and President of the University of Michigan.
"Jacob brought the human influence," wrote the Board's executive director." He brought that much needed balance as a great humanitarian with understanding and compassion."
Rabbi Jacob Weinstein: 1902 - 1974
"Mother" Jones was American Labor's best known "agitator" in the turn of the century era. She was especially close to the coal miners whom she referred to as her "boys," but she went anywhere when called on for help.
written by Mara Lou Hawse
The elderly woman smoothed her black dress and touched the lace at her throat and wrists. Her snow-white hair was gathered into a knot at the nape of her neck, and a black hat, trimmed with lavender ribbons to lend a touch of color, shaded her finely wrinkled face. She was about five feet tall, but she exuded energy and enthusiasm. As she waited to speak, her bright blue eyes scanned the people grouped beyond the platform. Her kindly expression never altered as her voice broke over the audience: "I'm not a humanitarian," she exclaimed. "I'm a hell-raiser."
And she was. She was Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, and her size and grandmotherly appearance belied her fiery nature. When she stepped on a stage, she became a dynamic speaker. She projected wide variations in emotion, sometimes striding about the stage in "a towering rage." She could bring her audience to the verge of tears or have them clapping and "bursting with laughter." She was a good story teller, and "she excelled in invective, pathos, and humor ranging from irony to ridicule."
Mother Jones's low, pleasant voice had great carrying power. It was unusual because it "did not become shrill when she became excited but, rather, dropped in pitch so that 'the intensity of it became something you could almost feel physically.' When she rose to speak, Mother Jones 'seemed to explode in all directions' . . . and suddenly everyone sat up alert and listened. No matter what impossible ideas she brought up, she made the miners think she and they together could do anything."
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a nationally known labor organizer, called Jones "the greatest woman agitator of our times." She was denounced in the U.S. Senate as the grandmother of all agitators. Mother Jones was proud of that title and said she hoped to live to be the great grandmother of agitators.
Mother Jones, born in Cork, Ireland, on May 1, 1830, came from a long line of agitators. When she was a child, she watched British soldiers march through the streets, the heads of Irishmen stuck on their bayonets. Her father's father, an Irish freedom fighter, was hanged; her father was forced to flee to America with his family in 1835.
Jones grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where she attended the public schools and graduated from normal school at age seventeen. She seemed to be, according to all accounts, ambitious and adventuresome. She taught in a convent school in Michigan for eight months, then moved to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker. "I preferred sewing to bossing little children," she said. She moved to Memphis, Tennessee, again to teach school. And there, in 1861, she met and married George E. Jones, an ironmolder who was "a staunch member" of the Iron Molders' Union.
Jones's biographer Dale Fetherling claims that Mother Jones learned a great deal about unions and about the psychology of workingmen from her husband. And later, when much of her work was with women, she tried to pass on to them what she had learned: "That is, the wife must care for what the husband cares for if he is to remain resolute."
Life was relatively good for Mary Harris Jones until 1867. That year, when she was 37 years old, within one week her husband and their four small children died in a yellow fever epidemic. After the epidemic had run its course, she returned to Chicago where, once again, she began to work as a dressmaker.
But tragedy followed Mother Jones. Four years later, in 1871, she lost everything she owned in the great Chicago fire. That event also changed her life drastically, and she discovered a new path to follow. She became involved in the labor movement and began to attend meetings of the newly formed Knights of Labor "in an old, tumbled down, fire scorched building."
One biographer believes that Mother Jones's interest in the labor movement really began when she sewed for wealthy Chicago families and observed the blatant economic and social inequities that existed. According to Fetherling, she said: "Often while sewing for the lords and barons who lived in magnificent houses on the Lake Shore Drive, I would look out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches, jobless and hungry, walking alongside the frozen lake front.... The contrast of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people for whom I sewed was painful to me. My employers seemed neither to notice nor to care."
The early Knights of Labor, with their ideals and their sense of fraternity, fulfilled some need within Mother Jones and fitted well with what she had learned from her husband. According to Fetherling, "Coming, as it did, on top of successive personal tragedies, the experience [with the Knights of Labor] forged an amalgam of compassion and fervor which would serve her well in industrial wars over the next half a century." Wherever there were labor troubles, there was Mother Jones--the "Miners' Angel."
Mother Jones apparently stayed in Chicago, working as a seamstress, for two or three years after the fire. She had no fixed home, but she made Chicago her base as she traveled back and forth across the country, from industrial area to industrial area. When asked where she lived, she replied: "Well, wherever there is a fight." She lived with the workers, in tent colonies or in shantytowns, near the mills or in the shadow of the tipples. As Fetherling pointed out, "In lieu of a family, she would adopt America's toilers, and they would call her 'Mother.'"
During the time she was most active in the labor movement, the country was changing dramatically, from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Small enterprises were replaced by large ones.
"The nature of work and of workers was altered. Waves of immigrants and displaced farmers dug the nation's coal and forged its steel. All too often, they received in return only starvation wages and nightmarish conditions. Within these men smoldered the sparks of class conflict which Mother Jones would fan for 50 years. To these workers, she would become an anchor to the past and an arrow toward a better future."
She always worked either for or with the working people, and often she was at odds with union leaders. "Her skill was the invaluable but incalculable one of tending to men's spirits, of buoying them, of goading them to fight even though the battle seemed hopeless."
When there was a strike, Mother Jones organized and helped the workers; at other times, she held educational meetings. In 1877, she helped in the Pittsburgh railway strike; during the 1880s she organized and ran educational meetings; in 1898 she helped found the Social Democratic Party; and in 1905 she was present at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World.
After 1890 she became involved in the struggles of coal miners and became an organizer for the United Mine Workers, attending her first UMWA convention on January 25, 1901. She had been on the union payroll for the past year. Her earlier work in miners' strikes and organizing had been as a volunteer, not as an employee.
She resigned as a UMWA organizer in 1904 and became a lecturer for the Socialist Party of America for several years, traveling throughout the southwest. Although sometimes she participated in strikes and organized drives for various unions, her main interest was in raising funds for the defense of Mexican revolutionists in the United States who were being arrested or deported.
Mother Jones was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 1905, she was the only woman among 27 persons who signed the manifesto that called for a convention to organize all industrial workers. She later left the organization, but she remained friendly with many of its leaders.
Mother Jones left the Socialist Party in 1911 to return to the payroll of the United Mine Workers, as an organizer. The new president, John P. White, was an old friend who agreed that she would set her own agenda. She expected that her talents "would have full scope." In 1923, when she was 93 years old, she was still working among striking coal miners in West Virginia.
She came to national attention in 1912-13, during the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in West Virginia, because of the publicity resulting from frequent violence. Mother Jones remembered the lessons learned from her late husband, and she often involved the wives and children of miners to dramatize a situation. On September 21, 1912, she led a march of miners' children through the streets of Charleston, West Virginia; on February 12, 1913, she led a protest about conditions in the strike area and was arrested.
She was convicted by a military court of conspiring to commit murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Her trial, conviction, and imprisonment created such a furor that the U.S. Senate ordered a committee to investigate conditions in the West Virginia coalfields. However, on May 8, 1913, before the investigation got underway, newly elected governor Hatfield set Mother Jones free. She was 83 years old. Later in 1913 Mother Jones traveled to Colorado to participate in the yearlong strike by miners there. She was evicted from mine company property several times, but returned each time. She was arrested and imprisoned twice: "first for more than two months in relative comfort in Mt. San Rafael hospital, and again for twenty-three days in the Huerfano County jail in Walsenburg, where the conditions of her semibasement cell were appalling."
Mother Jones was especially touched by the "machine-gun massacre" of miners and their families in a tent colony at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914, when 20 people were killed. She traveled across the country, telling the story. Members of the House Mines and Mining Committee and President Wilson responded by proposing that the union and the owners agree to a truce and create a grievance committee at each mine.
Mother Jones was notable for attracting publicity and attention from the government for the cause of workers. One of her best-known activities was leading a march of miners' wives "who routed strikebreakers with brooms and mops in the Pennsylvania coalfields in 1902." Another was leading the "children's crusade," a caravan of striking children from the textile mills of Kensington, Pennsylvania, to President Theodore Roosevelt's home in Long Island, New York, in 1903, to dramatize the case for abolishing child labor.
Mother Jones went on to participate in 1915 and 1916 in the strikes of garment workers and streetcar workers in New York, and in the strike of steel workers in Pittsburgh in 1919. In January 1921, at the age of 91, as a guest of the Mexican government, she traveled to Mexico to attend the Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting. According to one writer, "It was the high point of recognition in her role in the labor movement."
In 1922 Mother Jones left the United Mine Workers. She disagreed with the policies of John L. Lewis, and Lewis did not reappoint her as an international organizer. Although she was hospitalized several times, she continued to speak when her health permitted. Her last known public address was in Alliance, Ohio, in 1926, when she was the guest of honor at a Labor Day celebration. Her last public appearance was at her 100th birthday party, May 1, 1930, at a reception in Silver Spring, Maryland. She read congratulatory messages and "made a fiery speech for the motion-picture camera."
Mother Jones lived in an incredible era. As biographer Dale Fetherling points out, she "was born . . . less than 50 years after the end of the American Revolution. Yet, she died on the eve of the New Deal. She was alive when Andrew Jackson was president, and she sometimes quoted from speeches she heard Lincoln make. As an adult she knew the Civil War, the Spanish- American War, and World War I. She rode in automobiles, and she saw the railroads link the oceans. She saw and was seen in films and came to know the everyday use of the telephone, the electric light, and the radio. She watched unions grow from secret groups of hunted men to what she feared was a complacent part of the established order.... It may have been a good time to live in America. But it also was a time in which one needed to fight very hard to survive. That she did."
Mary Harris Jones died in Silver Spring on November 30, 1930, seven months after her one-hundredth birthday. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois, in the coalfields of southern Illinois. Her grave is near those of the victims of the Virden, Illinois, mine riot of 1898.
A number of books on Mother Jones can be purchased from our bookstore.
Illinois author, Victor Hicken describes the origins of political radicalism among miners in central and southern Illinois.
by Victor Hicken - ©1997 Victor Hicken
transcribed by Judy York
Even in the old implications of the word, the 1890's were not "gay." But it was true, specially in the cities, that the middle class enjoyed the almost yearly technological advances which America's prolific inventors were adding to the country's growing advantages. And, if one were willing and able, as well as necessarily brilliant, he or she could fulfill the dream of the standard Horatio Alger plot. It was proven time and time again that children of a middle- or even lower-class family could rise and become rich and successful. With those achievements, of course, came also the admiration and respect of society.
Like a great many aspects of life, the opportunities which America offered were like the proverbial coin of the realm; they had two sides. In the twenty-five years since the end of the Civil War, a laissez-faire society, untrammeled by government regulation, had allowed the rich to become exceedingly rich and the poor to become poorer. Hamlin Garland, a midwestern writer of the period, noted the growing disparity between life on the farm and life in the middle-class towns of the Great Plains. On the other hand, Jacob Riis, the Danish- American reformer, pointed his finger at the cities and graphically illustrated the terrible discrepancies between life in the ghettos and life among the more privileged.(1)
With respect to Hell's Kitchen in New York, to Murderers' Row in Chicago, and to the drudgery of the American farm, one could write with some assurance that these sides of the coin were not completely invisible. At least, Riis and Garland saw them, and so did dozens of other writers. If one were to target 1890 as a specific date, one might add that the same could not be said of those who worked the coal pits of America. The coal miner was there, and his numbers were in the tens of thousands and growing by the day. Almost more than anyone else, he represented the unseen American. No one wrote songs about him. He was less a part of American literature in 1890 than were the blacks of both the South and North. Gone from his mining-camp home before dawn and returning to it after dark, sometimes living in mining villages surrounded by barbed wire, his only comforts were those provided by the sanctity of the bedroom and the consolation found in a bottle.
These facts were true in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, where coal mines had fueled the industrial revolution for years, and they were increasingly true in Illinois where, by 1890, new pits were being opened with increasing frequency. In that state, almost everything was in a feverish state of flux. Even textbooks and newspapers were encouraging the use of the phrase "Prairie State" rather than "Sucker State." Chicago had burned and was rebuilding, becoming what a future poet would call the "city of big shoulders." The big shoulders belonged to newly-arrived immigrants who worked in the steel mills or the factories, and they worked so hard and so long each day that the need of Chicago for more and more coal was an economic fact of life. So did Germanic St. Louis, across the Mississippi River from southern Illinois. Between the two cities ran railroads, and they, in turn, crossed over the rich black coal fields of St. Clair, Macoupin, Montgomery, and Christian counties - so rich, indeed, that nearly 100 years after their first major economic development, their contents are probably ninety-nine percent intact.
Most of the coal produced in Illinois in 1890 came from three areas of the state: the Spring Valley and Coal City area in the northern half; the St. Clair County area near St. Louis; and that part of Illinois known by tradition as "Little Egypt." Williamson County mines had been opened as early as 1869, and by 1890 the county's coal production had reached 200,000 tons a year.(2)
This is not to say that there was no coal production elsewhere. Indeed, there were some sixty or seventy two- and three-man shallow pits near Colchester, in McDonough County; the coal there was so close to the surface that dogs were used to pull the small drays from the workings to the cave openings. There were also small shafts near Gillespie, in Macoupin County. According to early geological survey maps, most of these had closed operations as early as 1880.
The fact is that coal deposits in Illinois have the subterranean shape of a saucer, with the rim near the surface of the ground in southern and western Illinois. The base of that saucer runs through south central Illinois; hence the need for deeper shafts in that area. Being compressed at a greater depth and probably older, the coal there was of a slightly higher quality. The only problem in the 1870's or 1880's was the lack of mechanized equipment to bring the coal from the face of the seam to the surface, a difficulty which found correction by the development of more mechanized systems to produce the coal. By 1890, the Ellsworth Coal Company was either sinking or considering mines in the Mt. Olive and Staunton areas of Macoupin County. Soon operations were extended by various concerns to Carlinville, Litchfield, Hillsboro, Witt, Nokomis, and Coalton in both Macoupin and Montgomery Counties.
The extent of the growth of coal production in those two counties can be illustrated by a few figures. In 1906, for example, the Shoal Creek Company sunk its Mine No. 1 at Panama, in Montgomery County. It required eighty-seven workers in its initial year, 230 a year later, 375 in 1908, and 433 by 1910. Over eight-five percent of its coal in 1910 was mined and brought to the surface by machines.
In Macoupin County, the Inspector of Mines reported in 1910 that there were twenty-two mines in operation, seventeen on which were shipping coal to various industrial centers elsewhere. Four of the shipping mines were in or around Virden, one was at Girard, one was at Carlinville, one at Nilwood, one at Green Ridge, three at Gillespie, two at Mt. Olive, and four near Staunton. It might be added parenthetically that two other mines lay just across the Madison County line from Staunton, and that most of the men who worked in them actually lived in that Macoupin town. The total coal production of all Macoupin mines in 1910 was 4,040,436 tons, and all twenty-two mines employed a total of 4,681 men. Once again, parenthetically, the inspector reported one revealing statistic: of the total number of miners employed in the shafts, some 150 boys were among them, although no age levels for this group were given.(3)
Villages and small settlements became minor boom towns overnight. Between Gillespie and Staunton pit villages appeared carrying the names of Benld, Sawyerville, Eagerville, and Mt. Clare. The first of these took its name from the ineptitude of an itinerant sign painter who fell while attempting to paint the name of a mine developer, Ben L. Dorsay, on the tipple. He was hurt and unable to finish his work, and so, from that point on, the settlement was known as Ben L. D., the first five letters of the mine owner's name.
Working the deeper pits of Macoupin and Montgomery counties was considerably different than the effort required in many of the shallow mines in southern Illinois. The labor pool which fed these new mines was principally immigrant, and the workers came from every European country, including Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Italians and Russians flocked to Benld, the presence of the latter being marked by the continuing presence of a quaintly beautiful Orthodox church. Croatians, Serbians, Bohemians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Letts, Lithuanians, Germans, and British also came. While not seeking to demean the hard working and ambitious immigrants from other lands, it would be fair to say that the more skilled deep- pit miners and, indeed, the most activist in terms of the mine unions were those from Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland.
Consider the case of the Panama mines. Of the 1,500 people living in that Montgomery County town in 1910, the predominant ethnic group was Italian, with a score of other elements represented in lesser numbers. Yet, with all of this ethnic variety, only one name is remembered out of that hectic period, and that is John Llewellyn Lewis, of Welsh heritage from Iowa. Those British who came to work the mines around the turn of the century were hard-bitten, acerbic, and cynical men who had already cut their teeth on the emerging trade unionism of Britain. As one Scot remarked some forty years after settling in Gillespie, "When I came to America to work in the mines, I was determined never to tip my cap to the man who owned the mine."(4) It is strange but true that after all of the blood and the suffering of miners in this country, the only great novel to which American miners might relate is How Green Was My Valley, written by Richard Llewellyn. It is a moving story about mining and mine unionism, not in the United States but in Wales.
Early evidence of the militancy of the new immigrants to Macoupin County was shown in the coal strike of 1894. Although the bankrupt United Mine Workers accepted the offer of operators in early June, miners of southeast Illinois simply refused to obey the agreement. On nine different occasions the state militia was sent to various parts of the region to quell disturbances. These actions by the governor brought commendations from some newspapers, particularly the Chicago Tribune. That paper argued that, under the circumstances, perhaps the new and troublesome immigrant workers might be speeded back to the lands of their birth. The militia was especially needed in the Mt. Olive area of Macoupin County, for there the miners had continuously interfered with trains carrying coal from the nonunion fields of the south.
Some of this activity may have been inspired by a fascinating character named Alexander Bradley. Sometimes claimed by Mt. Olive, and later nicknamed "the General," Bradley was an Englishborn, nebulous character who flitted in and out of mine issues for over forty years. Always flamboyantly dressed, he was a quadrennial candidate for one office or another on the Socialist ticket, and he played a part in one of the most violent episodes in Illinois mining history.(5)
What Bradley and others saw in the mine fields of Illinois was a kind of industrial feudalism supported by both the law and the political establishment. The famous muckraker, Henry D. Lloyd described the system as a "pustule of a disease spread through the whole body." The average annual income of a Macoupin or Montgomery County miner in 1897 was approximately $190. For this he worked 179 ten-hour days each year. Out of this princely sum the miner supplied his own tools and his own transportation. This reason alone would account for the militant willingness of Macoupin and Montgomery County miners to join the United Mine Workers coal strike of 1897.(6)
Some six months later, in 1898, the operators settled on terms which were considered as a victory for the union. But the ordeal was not over. Led by operators who owned mines stretching along the Chicago and Alton Railroad, a segment of management balked at the new contract. Strongest among the protestors were the Chicago-Virden Coal Company and the Pana Coal Company. The former was a power to be reckoned with. Its mine at Virden was the largest single producer in the state, hoisting 348,000 tons a year prior to the 1897 strike. Even when a national board returned findings in favor of the miners, both the Virden and the Pana companies argued that they simply would not accept the finings.
Through the early months of 1898, the situation at Virden and at Pana went from bad to worse. The Pana company attempted to employ nonunion white labor in an effort to work their mine, but Christian county resistance was so great that the company quit the effort. The same company, and possibly some agents of the Chicago-Virden Company as well, then tried to recruit Chinese labor in California. The results were fruitless. Finally, in August, both companies resolved to import black labor from Alabama. By promising conditions which might have astounded the white strikers in Pana and Virden, agents soon rounded up a trainload of black miners from the Birmingham region of that state.
All along the route through southern Illinois, the strike organizers of the United Mine Workers succeeded in boarding the northbound train, and in warning the imported strikebreakers that their lives might be in peril further north. Indeed, some shots may have been fired along the way, for the guards riding shotgun were forced to compel their passengers to lower the blinds and not to show their faces under any circumstance. Despite all attempts of the union, and even despite the warnings of governor Tanner, who issued a statement on behalf of the union, the Pana Company managed to sneak its train into Pana and to house their strikebreakers behind a stockade near the struck mines.
The Chicago-Virden Company quickly followed suit, erecting a stockade which, in aging photographs, tends to resemble something Jim Bridger might have thrown up near the North Platte or on the wide Missouri. The compnay went one step further, hiring fifty professional gunfighters from Chicago and St. Louis. Fitted out with shiny new Winchester rifles, these men were stationed about the mine and even on the tipple in order to protect the train which was about to arrive.
Of course, all of these preparations were in the way of a signal to the striking miners and their supporters in Macoupin County. Led by the ubiquitous General Bradley, hundreds of miners from Gillespie, Benld, Staunton, and particularly Mt. Olive poured into the Virden area. The train puffed into sight at the appointed hour, but the engineer, blessed with more wisdom than valor, puffed right out again in the direction of Springfield. All of those men, vicious in their righteous indignation and armed with weapons ranging from pitchforks to shotguns, seemed too much of an obstacle.
Still the Chicago-Virden Company persisted despite the efforts of various local authorities north of Virden who attempted to dissuade the company from its goal. Sixty blacks were taken off the train at Tower Hill, fourteen others at Minonk, and the train was even shunted onto a sidetrack at Galesburg in order to thwart the attempt to break the strike.
Finally, on October 13, the Chicago-Virden Company made its final assault upon the besieged stockade. The train rolled southward and finally into Virden, Where it was halted next to the fort. Both the hired guards and the strikers opened fire at once and the scene became, according to one observer, reminiscent of the fighting at San Juan Hill some months earlier. When the engineer once again opened his throttle and backed up in the direction of Springfield, and when the smoke had cleared, it could be recorded that the human sacrifice had been significant. Seven miners were killed and between thirty and forty were wounded. Of the guards, five were killed and four wounded. No injuries were incurred among the blacks.
Governor Tanner quickly sent the militia into the area, with orders to prevent violence and to thwart any further attempts to bring in strikebreakers. What happened to the blacks? Most stayed in Illinois, either settling in Springfield or moving up to Chicago. As far as the miners were concerned, their victory was both sweet and tragic. They now had the martyrs any movement had to have, and one month later in Virden, the company finally agreed to pay the higher wage scale. It was a victory for militant unionism, although won at a high cost. A short time later, a visitor to these same Illinois mine fields affected by the strike was to note an absence of pet dogs and cats. The truth was that there were none. They had all been eaten.(7)
The aftermath of what came to be known as the "Virden Massacre" was an explosion of fact into myth. The murdered "boys of Virden," as Mother Jones called them, seemed to grow in number with each decade. Yet their martyrdom seemed undeniable to most Macoupin County miners. A month after the fight at Virden, a State Militia captain described the striking miners at Virden as mostly "Slavonic" who were impossible to "educate and elevate." He was partially right in the sense that some of the miners were Slavic in descent, but the nationalities of four of the dead who came from Mr. Olive is a story unto itself. Two had pioneer backgrounds or were British (Long and Smith), and two were Germans (Gitterle and Kaemerer). For some inexplicable reason, all four were denied burial in the town's established cemeteries, so their comrades were forced to buy an acre of land in which they might be interred. Some twenty years later, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones made a dedicatory speech for this Union Cemetery, and in it she stated, "I hope it will be my consolation when I pass away to feel I sleep under the clay with those brave boys." Her wishes were eventually fulfilled, and today she rests in Mt. Olive with the "boys of Virden."(8)
Perhaps it was as Mrs. Jones had intimated in her 1923 speech at Mt. Olive: That the martyrdom of the Virden boys had created such a militancy in what was now called District 12 of the United Mine Workers that it would draw special attention from mine operators. Or perhaps it was that the better working conditions in District 12 simply developed because big capital found it to be a profitable area in which to mine coal. At any rate, the growth in coal production and the numbers of mine sinkings after 1898 in both Macoupin and Montgomery Counties were quite substantial. The most significant of these were those mines developed by the Superior Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Four major tipples were constructed at Eagerville, Sawyerville, Mt. Clare, and at Wilsonville. The last, Superior's No. 4, was partially a response of the World War I demand for fuel. Hence the reason for naming the town Wilsonville. Of the four mining villages, this last was the source of the most labor trouble for the Superior Company. It was also a little village which, as voting statistics show, harbored more political radicals than the larger towns in the county.(9)
That big capital had discovered the possibilities for enormous profits in coal in southern and central Illinois is shown by the fact that Joseph Leiter and John "Bet-a-Million" Gates could be numbered among the new investors. Leiter, a Chicagoan and typical of the nouveau riche of his time, was famous not only for his wealth but also for his wife, a woman whose tongue sometimes belied her social status. Malapropisms abounded in her vocabulary. She once told reporters that she planned to attend a fancy masquerade bell dressed in the "garbage of a nun." Entrepreneurs or not, such individuals as Gates and Leiter played for high stakes, and their dealings were sometimes hidden behind such interlocking directorates that union leaders were sometimes forced to bargain in the chilly confines of some LaSalle Street bank or in the Union Trust Bank at Pittsburgh. One small Gillespie mine, "The Little Dog," was once owned by the Lehmann Corporation, whose most famous public outcropping was Herbert Lehmann, a New Dealer and one-time governor of New York. Lehmann's liberal viewpoints did not serve to drastically alter or improve the conditions of men who worked that mine.(10)
So rapid was the economic growth in both Macoupin and Montgomery counties after 1900 that the McKinley enterprises, which were based in the east, built a so-called "interurban railroad" from Danville to Champaign and thence to St. Louis. The track for what was jokingly called "the Toonerville trolley" ran straight down the main street of Gillespie which, by the mid-twenties, had become the largest town in the county. Over in Montgomery County, small settlements were absorbed by bigger towns. The town of Witt, for instance, grew so rapidly after 1900 that it overran the nearby English settlement of Paisley.
All of the mining towns in the two counties grew rapidly, and all seemed to develop characteristics derived from the ethnic elements which predominated within them. Of course, some claims fell into the realm of myth, but it was argued that the best bootleg beer after 1925 came from Mt. Olive. The best wine and pasta, it was said, came from Benld. Because scores of English families settled in Witt, it was said that the best home cooked candies came from that town. The best scones and tea cakes were to be had in Gillespie. Seemingly unrelated to anything in the way of ethnicity was the claim that the best baseball players came from the Nokomis area.(11)
It was into this milieu of coal and ethnic expansion that, on some day between April 4 and June 25, 1908, John Llewellyn Lewis stepped. This was the same year in which John Mitchell, the declining hero of the United Mine Workers Union, was to give his last National Union report. Why did Lewis come to Montgomery County? According to Dubovsky and Van Tine, Lewis's latest biographers, he emigrated from Iowa to Panama, Illinois partially because of the militant unionism which pervaded the atmosphere of Montgomery and Macoupin counties. Saul Alinsky, in a adulative biography written some years earlier, makes the same claim.(12)
Lewis's brothers as well as his father also moved to Panama, and soon the family seemed to have seized control of the town. John was elected president of the U.M.W. local, Thomas became the police magistrate (some years later, he would be both the local union president and the manager of Shoal Creek No. 1), Dennie became financial secretary of the Panama local, and three others were simply labor union activists.(13)
In the autumn of 1909, almost all of the male population of the northern Illinois town of Cherry was wiped out in a terrible mine disaster. Through the efforts of John Walker, then the leader of District 12 (which included Illinois), John L. Lewiswas given the special task of lobbying for more stringent mine safety laws in Springfield. In a sense, he never went back to Panama. Mine safety laws were radically improved, probably due less to Lewis' efforts than to the public hue and outcry over the Cherry disaster. Whatever the reasons, the miners of District 12 took the position that by being militant, by not backing down an inch, they could annually improve their financial and working conditions. Lewis road the tide, and by 1919, he had put himself into a position which brought him the acting presidency of the national union.(14)
Through the decade of the 1920's, the major problem for union coal miners in northern fields was the tremendous growth in the production of nonunion coal in Kentucky and Appalachia. With such cheap coal as a weapon, northern producers sought to reduce gains made previously among unionized miners by attempting to lower wages in the northern mines. Although Lewis argued the principle of "not one step backward," the reality of nonunion coal production was something else. In 1928, just prior to the onset of the Great Depression, affairs had reached such a sorry state among mines operating under United Mine Workers contracts that Lewis sent out a call of almost appalling desperation. Every district for itself, he told his workers: each was free to make its own contract.
There had been strikes during the 1920's in Illinois, but in general conditions had been fairly good. Irving Bernstein, in his History of the American Worker, 1920-1933, writes that local papers in southern Illinois, and in Franklin and Williamson counties in particular, had been filled with advertisements for radios, coats, and even books. Whatever strikes had occurred (and in District 12, there had never been any hesitancy about calling them) had been relatively painless. Once in a while, District 12 miners had "wildcatted" strikes over such simple issues that it appeared as if they really wanted to have a day off. But 1928 was something else indeed, and in the end, even District 12 was forced into a contract which lowered daily wages from $7.50 to $6.10 a day.
The touchiness of miners in District 12 did have tangible effects, however. The pay reduction there was considerably less than in other mining areas of the nation. Still, to the 50,000 miners in District 12, Lewis's willingness to submit to reductions seemed tantamount to abject surrender, and this was particularly true with respect to those who knew him best - the miners of Macoupin County. The same could not be said for miners in Montgomery County, however, for their situation was now becoming shaded by other changes. The mines of Witt had fallen into long closings, and those of Coalton and Nokomis apparently had a limited future.
Among the Macoupin County miners, it was not uncommon to hear Lewis now being referred to as a "crook," and there were rumors that he lived in almost baronial splendor. The last was not entirely true, but miners who took their families to Springfield on the electric railroad almost always made a pilgrimage by the Lewis home, a large sturdy structure which was certainly beyond anything which they might ever own. Such mutterings were increased when Lewis, as the president of the United Mine Workers, got into a deadly quarrel with the president of district 12, Frank Farrington. The latter had dared to challenge Lewis's authority and his power as well, the result being that Lewis unloaded on his enemy with such deadly precision that no one could err in naming him the biggest boy in the block.
While the quarrel between Farrington and Lewis was at its height, the former was persuaded to take a trip to Europe. Within days after the departure of the ship, Lewis released his most deadly missile. It was the revelation that Farrington, while president of District 12, had also signed on with the Peabody Coal Company as its "public relations expert" at an annual salary of $25,000. Peabody was a dirty name to many Illinois miners, and Farrington's deception was incredible in view of the fact that District 12 miners had just seen their wages lowered in the contract of 1928. (15)
When, in 1928, Lewis told his districts to pull in their wagons and to defend themselves, it was only a hint of the misery to come.
In the following year, with the onset of the Great Depression, coal fields in general, with the exception of those in central Illinois, became remnants of what they had been. The economic malaise quickly metastasized into a broad cancer. In Little Egypt, Sesser's three mines were closed, and so were Benton's four. Johnson City soon had eight abandoned mines. Within ten years, in the three counties of Franklin, Williamson, and Saline, there would be a total of 109 abandoned mines.
The growth of nonunion coal had a certain effect on mines around Witt and Hillsboro in Montgomery County, and this, plus the ordinary militancy of miners in Macoupin County, heightened the unrest of miners in those two counties over the seeming lack of leadership in the United Mine Workers itself. After all, as has been stressed before, if Lewis was known at all by the rank and file of his union, it would be by the workers in Macoupin and Montgomery Counties. While miners had taken wage decreases in both 1928 and 1929, Lewis's salary had more than doubled. The president now owned a prosperous bank, he traded successfully in the market, and it was said of him that he was making more money than smaller operators. Miners in Macoupin County especially would have agreed with Lewis's most recent biographers that, by 1929 and 1930, he had become "very much a man of the American 1920's."(16)
By March 1930, with the movement centering in Macoupin, Montgomery, and Christian counties, District 12 was in revolt against Lewis. An attempt was made to run the venerable John Walker against Lewis, but this was quickly nipped in the bud when Lewis preemptively ruled Walker constitutionally ineligible. Lewis' opposition was a mixed bag of dedicated unionists and radicals. One should not discount the latter, especially in Macoupin County. In the election of 1920, for instance, there was no Communist Party listed on Illinois ballots, but the Socialist and Socialist-Labor candidates won 1,291 votes in that county. Compared to a non-coal county such as Adams, the difference was remarkable. Larger in population than Macoupin, Adams County gave 404 votes to both of the radical candidates.
Four years later, in 1924, with the Progressive party, Socialist-Labor party, and Workers' Party (Communist) candidates on the ballots, Macoupin County tallied 6,959 votes for the first, thirty-two for the second, and seventy-seven for the last. Once again, this far exceeded the Adams county votes for the candidates of those three parties.
The Communist vote in Macoupin went up by fur in 1928, but in 1932 the results were more interesting. Norman Thomas received 1,567 votes, the Socialist-Labor candidate won fifty-one votes, and the Communist candidate received 134 votes. The Lemke-O'Brien Union Party ticket was to affect the 1936 election, drawing 950 votes in Macoupin county, but a study of the Socialist party vote in that election is revealing. There was no Communist candidate, and one may assume that votes ordinarily going in that direction would be cast for the venerable Norman Thomas. Thomas did well in three areas in Macoupin: in Benld, in Gillespie, where he received his largest support, and in one of the Dorchester precincts. Dorchester itself is a little farming village, but it does have one precinct which covers the Wilsonville area, where Superior Mine No. 4 is located. There Thomas got forty votes which, by calculation, amounts to almost three times the number which the candidate received in five precincts of Carlineville, the county seat.(17)
All of these factors--the Lewis-Farrington controversy; the basic radicalism of Macoupin miners as opposed to Lewis, the "man of the twenties"; the worsening conditions of the miners--would have profound effects upon the dramatic episodes which were to occur in 1932. In that year, the four-year contract between District 12 miners and the operators was drawing to an end. By March 31, almost all of the District 12 workers had left the pits due to the failure to bring negotiations to a close. Finally, on July 9, a new contract was announced, and although many miners may have resigned to losing ground in terms of annual income, the extent to which they were expected to give way was shocking. The basic daily wage scale on the previous contract was $6.10; the new contract was to lower this to $5.00. When the contract was submitted to miners for their approval, they angrily turned it down by a majority of more than two to one.
Within days a second proposal, which called for essentially the same agreement, was again submitted to the miners. Lewis, by now the international president of the U.M.W.A., ranged through the state, although mostly in the fairly safe districts. He pleaded for acceptance of the contract. The unfortunate and still highly respected District 12 president, John H. Walker, was given the onerous task of selling the agreement to the more militant miners. His appearance in Gillespie was disastrous, and it nearly erupted into personal violence against himself.
The meeting in that town was scheduled at an unused movie theater. Hours before the appointed time, miners began to come into town from outlying villages such as Eagerville, Mt. Clare, Sawyerville, and Wilsonville. The more outspoken opponents to the new contract occupied the front seats in the old building, and as Walker began his attempt to sell the contract to the miners, one by one they leaped to their feet. They would not go gently into that good night as lackeys or minions who would sell their right to a fair living. As the house rocked with applause from the angry audience, the poorly constructed old movie house almost seemed to self destruct. Chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling upon those seated below; not small pieces drifting through unmoving wisps of pipe smoke, but yardwide flat pieces which fell noisily on both people and seats below. Walker, veteran to mine militancy that he was, soon cut short his effort and quickly left town.(18)
The vote upon the second contract took place on August 6. The early pronouncements of Lewis' immediate subordinates indicated that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the referendum had carried in favor of the contract. Before any affirmation of the tally sheets could be made, the news suddenly broke that all of the sheets had been stolen. Evidence that the thieves had been high officers in District 12 was open and clear--a crime compounded by Lewis himself a few days later when he peremptorily announced that, because the sheets had disappeared, he was ordering miners to accept the terms of the new contract.
It was soon obvious that opposition to the skullduggery of the leadership of District 12 was strongest in Macoupin County. There in Benld, on August 14, rank and file miners held a meeting to determine the action to be taken against mines elsewhere which were in obeisance to Lewis's order. There was particular bitterness against Christian county miners who were answering the call of the Peabody Coal Company to resume work. The Benld decision was that miners should proceed to the Taylorville area and that they should picket working mines in that county. By August 19 there were some 1,500 miners, most of them from Macoupin county, en route to Taylorville. Their efforts were quickly successful; the Christian County miners refused to cross picket lines.
Temporarily successful in this effort, the attention of the Macoupin County miners now turned to southern Illinois, where miners of Franklin county had returned to work under the terms of the new contract. In Little Egypt, conditions were of a much different nature. Earlier picket lines had been dispersed by questionable tactics on the part of county law authorities. One picket had been murdered, and many of the workers in that area were anxious to return to work lest their places of employment be permanently closed.
Still, the union leaders in the Gillespie and Benld area made plans for a huge picketing demonstration, announcing that no miners would be armed, and that the parade of autos into southern Illinois was to be well organized and peaceful. Some 10,000 miners left the Staunton area, the tunes of the local municipal band ringing in their ears.
The circumstances of what soon came to be known as the "Battle of Mulkeytown" seem clearly to have been a result of collaboration between the sheriff of Franklin county, state police who directed the caravan into an ambush, and militant Lewis followers among the local miners. Hundreds of high school boys, coal miners, and businessmen were deputized by the Franklin county sheriff, as well as two physicians who were told to treat only Franklin county people among the expected casualties.
When the head of the vast cavalcade reached U.S. Highway 51south of DuQuoin, the state police shunted the leading cars eastward on State Highway 14. When the leading cars crossed the Little Muddy River, a short distance from the village of Mulkeytown, the sheriff's deputies suddenly appeared ahead. Shots were fired, men were beaten, cars were pushed over, and tires were punctured. It was hardly a melee, much less a battle. There was no contest, for only one side was armed. The great caravan turned around, and headed northward. Five of the would-be picketers were casualties; none of the sheriff's deputies had been wounded.(19)
With miners in southern Illinois working in the pits at the reduced wages, and a crumbling situation in the Peabody mines in Christian County, the militant miners now called a convention for September 1, 1932. Meeting in Gillespie and in the old Colonial Theater, which had shook at the rejection of John H. Walker's midsummer plea to accept the new contract, the convention recommended the organization of a new union to be called the Progressive Miners of America. Its acting president, later to be its regular president, was a working miner, Claude Pearcy of Gillespie. How odd it would seem to some miners later when they realized that Pearcy, a decent and intelligent man, had been born in Lucas, Iowa, the birthplace of John L. Lewis, and that only eight years separated them in age.(20)
While it may be true that, as some writers claim, the Progressive Miners of America (later the Progressive Mine Workers of America) were made up of pure militants, Communists, Musteites, Ku Klux Klanners, opportunists, and worse, whatever can be said in this respect can be repeated in turn for their opponents, the United Mine Workers. The 1930's, at least the years following the establishment of a second mine union, were filled with violence wherever and whenever the two unions came into conflict over control. While this was not so much true of Montgomery County because its coal mining days were temporarily ended, or in Macoupin County, in which almost everyone was a Progressive, it was true in southern Illinois and in Christian County. The Progressives (called "Proggies" by the United Mine Workers) did bargain into a slightly better contract, which added both advantages and woes to the new union. Operators, such as Peabody in Christian County, managed to obtain state militia protection from picketing, and simply refused to consider the more costly Progressive contract. In southern Illinois, whenever miners were taken with the "Progressive disease," they were often summarily fired.
Men died on both sides. Strikers were shot by national guardsmen, fights between scores of men were everyday occurrences in 1933 and 1934, and even the members of the Progressive Mine Workers Womens' Auxiliary were assaulted in Franklin County. This last organization, headed by Agnes Burns Wieck of Belleville, was no less militant in its activities than the union itself.(21)
A major problem of the Progressives was in obtaining recognition by the National Labor Relations Board, over which Lewis exercised so much influence. It was a particularly damaging situation, for any disputes involving discrimination against miners with Progressive affiliations had no hearing. President Pearcy of the Progressives attempted to rid the union of its red-tainted officers, in one instance firing the editor of the union newspaper, Gerry Allard. Lewis' stranglehold on the Department of Labor and his heavy contributions to the Democratic Party delayed National Labor Relations Board considerations of Progressive claims until midsummer of 1937. The recognition of the P.M.W.A. by the Board came after President Roosevelt's second inauguration and may have had some relationship to the quarrel which was soon to take place between the President and Lewis.
Though the issue of radical militancy had died along with the closing coal mines of Montgomery County, it remained a vital factor in yearly developments in the 1930's in Macoupin county. In 1937, over what seems to have been a slight grievance in Superior Mine No. 4 in Wilsonville, miners there refused to come topside at the close of the day's operations. It was the first so-called sit down strike to be conducted in a coal mine, and it lasted very nearly a week.(22)
And the union itself continued to have troubles. In 1939, two of its organizers were suspended on the charges of having proselyted for causes and principles adverse to the aims and aspirations of the union as a whole. Even at this date, some forty-one years later, it is dangerous to state just why the two men were punished. One may suspect at some risk that the two individuals were advocating principles so far to the left that even union officials could not support them.(23)
With virtually all of the old mines of Macoupin and Montgomery closed in 1980, one can now summarize the contributions of the two counties in terms of radical unionism and workers' militancy. There was the violence in the Mt. Olive coal field in the early 1890's and the Virden-Pana battle of 1898. John L. Lewis emerged in Montgomery County after 1908. He rose to leadership of the United Mine Workers and, with his friend Allan Haywood, once of Witt in Montgomery County, later organized the Committee of Industrial Organization in the 1930's. There was the peculiar "General" Bradley of Mt. Olive, and the famous "Mother" Jones who would be buried there. The latter not only helped to organize the International Workers of the World, the I.W.W. or the "wobblies," but she had some kind of a mysterious hand in the workings of the Mexican Revolution in 1915. And for Mother Jones' connoisseurs (she seems to have been rediscovered of late), there is even a radical feminist magazine published today in San Francisco. Called simply Mother Jones, its recent Christmas issue carried an artist's illustration of Mother Jones in a Santa Claus suit, with the notion that the leading article inside was entitled "Happy Hell Raising." Then there was the violence of the anti-Lewis movement and the organization of the Progressive Mine Workers of America. Forty-eight years after its founding, the union still exists, although it would be difficult to enumerate its membership.
Through it all, was there anything in the way of contradiction, anything in the way of anomaly? John L. Lewis came to work in Panama in 1908. One year earlier, Louis Kenneth Eilers was born in Gillespie. The first became a great union leader, the second the president of the Eastman-Kodak Company. Allan Haywood emigrated from England to Witt in Montgomery County, though his stay there was brief. Haywood eventually became a high official in the C.I.O. and in the United Automobile Workers of America. Leslie Berry Worthington was also born in England. He was brought to Witt by his family at about the same time Haywood arrived there from what was called the "old country." Worthington, like Eilers, had a long career in the business world, eventually becoming the president of U.S. Steel. Were they all examples of the way that was in the free-wheeling America of seventy years ago? Or were their successes, all of them, the results of the electric social climate of the coal fields of Macoupin and Montgomery counties?(24)
(1)Garland's dissection of farm life is found in his Main-Travelled Roads (1891). Riis wrote How the Other Half Lives (1890), a powerful indictment of social disparity in New York City
(2)John Keiser, Building for the Centuries: Illinois, 1865 to 1898 (Urbana: Univ. Of Illinois Press, 1977), pp. 12-13. Many of the early St. Clair County miners were active in the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers, an affiliation of the Knights of Labor. The original charter for Local Union No. 644, District 6 (Hillsboro, Ill.) was, for many years, displayed on the wall of Room 508, Ridgely Bank Building, Springfield, Ill. See Dallas M. Young, "A History of the Progressive Miners of America, 1932-1940," Diss. University of Illinois 1942, p.9.
(3)The Area News (Gillespie, Illinois) 22 Aug. 1980, section 2, p. 1, and Melvyn Dubovsky and Warren Van Tine, John L. Lewis: A Biography (New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Club, 1977), p. 21.
(4)My own recollections. As to the importance of the British in the American labor movement, consider Sam Gompers, a London-born Jew and the leader of the American Federation of Labor for decades; Philip Murray, a Scot and important labor leader in the 1930's; John Mitchell, American born of a Scottish mother, and early leader of the United Mine Workers of America; Allan Haywood, an Englishman and 1930s' leader of the C.I.O.; and John Brophy, Lancashire-born coal union leader in the West Virginia fields.
(5)Keiser, Building for the Centuries, pp. 246-47. See also: John Keiser, "The Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive, Illinois--A Spirit-Thread of Labor History," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 62 (1969), 229-66. Keiser gives a fine portrait of Bradley, who was born in England in 1866, brought to Collinsville in 1873 by his family, and later settled in Mt. Olive.
(6)Victor Hicken, "The Virden and Pana Mine Wars of 1898," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 52 (1959), 264-66. The quote by Lloyd is from his book, A Strike of Millionaires against Miners (Chicago: n.p., 1890), p. 10.
(7)Hicken, "The Virden and Pana Mine Wars," pp. 265-78; also Keiser, "The Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive, Illinois, pp. 243-50.
(8)Ibid, p. 251. Dale Fetherling, Mother Jones: The Miners' Angel (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1974), p. 16.
(9)The Area News, section 2, p. 1. Also, tally sheets from the 1936 election, copy forwarded by Philip Brown, Macoupin County Clerk. The 1936 selection, the only one close to the 1931 depression for which tally sheets are still available in the County Clerk's Office, shows forty-seven Socialist and Socialist-Labor votes for Wilsonville, Carlinville, the county seat, had only fourteen in the same categories. There was no Communist presidential candidate listed for Illinois in 1936.
(10)McAlister Coleman, Men and Coal (New York: Arno and The New York Times, 1969), p. 76. In so far as working conditions in the coal mines were concerned, it should be remembered that the official figure for deaths from pit accidents since 1900 is 102,968. Some 3,242 miners died in 1907 alone. These figures do not include deaths from slow but relentless black lung disease which, in 1975, was accounting for between 4,000 and 5,000 deaths among old miners. See the Chicago Tribune, 12 Mar. 1980, p. 10.
(11)Nokomis produced two baseball Hall of Famers: Charles "Red" Ruffing of the Yankees, and Jim Bottomley of the Cardinals. Ruffing lost part of a foot while working as a miner but it did not hinder him from winning 273 games from 1924 to 1947.
(12)Dubovsky and Van Tine, p. 20. Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1949), p. 21. Alinsky's glosses over almost everything in Lewis's life which might have been ethically questionable.
(13)Dubovsky and Van Tine, pp. 56-57.
(14)Irving Bernstein, A History of the American Worker, 1920-1933: The Lean Years (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), pp. 362-74.
15)Ibid., pp. 360-69, and Coleman, p. 138. I also draw upon my own memory for some of the impressions Macoupin County miners had of John L. Lewis.
(16)Bernstein, pp. 362-65; Coleman, pp. 142-43. As for Lewis's 1920's financial dealings, see Dubovsky and Van Tine, p. 150.
(17)Most of these figures come from the Illinois Blue Book, an annual publication of the State of Illinois concerning the state. Phil Brown, County Clerk, Macoupin County gave me a copy of the 1936 vote tallies. It is interesting to note that Jennie Lee, the wife of British Labor Socialist Aneurin Bevan, made several visits to Gillespie during the 1930's. Not only was it the Scots settlement which drew her there, but the radical coloration of the mining population as well. It might be noted here that in 1976 there were seventy-four Macoupin County votes for the Communist candidate, five for the Socialist-Labor, and seven for the Socialist. Adams County, by comparison, tallied twenty-five Communist, eight Socialist-Labor, and twelve Socialist votes.
(18)Bernstein, pp. 370-77. I was present in the old Colonial Theater when Walker spoke.
(19)The events of summer, 1932, are described in Dallas Young's Ph.D. dissertation, pp. 49-95; Bernstein, pp. 370-77; Dubovsky and Van Tine, pp. 163-77; and Coleman, pp. 140- 42.
(20)Young, p. 113. I saw Mr. Pearcy often. I also attended school with his children.
(21)Ibid., p. 117. Through the summers of 1932 and 1933 there were countless rallies and picnics throughout the area in support of the Progressive cause. The "women's auxiliary" was always present. I have in my memorabilia a clipping which describes a rally on the farm of Bill Hicken at Witt. The article ends: "Every one was tired and weary but well pleased at having been present to take part in such an enjoyable outing."
(22)"Sit Down Strike Continues," St. Louis Star-Times, 25 May 1937, p. 1.
(23)Young, p. 184, gives no hint as to why the two men were suspended. I have my own opinions, having been acquainted with one of them. Dubovsky and Van Tine, p. 170, state that the Progressives were an admixture of Communists and Musteites, Ku Klux Klanners, opportunists, and pie-card artists. I have no idea what a pie-card artist is, but the term Musteite was applied to any radical who espoused the ideas taught at the Brookwood Labor College in New York state.
(24)My parents knew the Haywood family well, I also knew the families of Leslie Worthington and Louis Eilers.
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©1997 Victor Hicken
Ten demonstrators were killed by police bullets during the "Little Steel Strike" of 1937. When several smaller steelmakers, including Republic Steel, refused to follow the lead of U.S. Steel (Big Steel) by signing a union contract, a strike was called by the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
As a show of support, hundreds of SWOC sympathizers from all around Chicago gathered on Memorial Day at Sam's Place, where the SWOC had its strike headquarters. After a round of speeches, the crowd began a march across the prairie and toward the Republic Steel mill. They were stopped midway by a formation of Chicago police. While demonstrators in front were arguing for their right to proceed, police fired into the crowd and pursued the people as they fled. Mollie West, a Typographical Union Local 16 member and a youthful demonstrator at the time, still recalls the command addressed to her: "Get off the field, or I'll put a bullet in your back."
The sculpture was created by Ed Blazak, a former employee of the Republic Steel company. It was originally sited on the property of Republic Steel near Burley.Ave. The sculpture, with its ten steel pipes, represent the smoke stakes of the ten steel mills within the area, now closed. They can also be Representative of the slain ten demonstrators.
A single frame from the Paramount newsreel of the Memorial Day Massacre. ILHS sells a video program containing the entire newsreel footage. See our bookstore link.
By automobile, from the Chicago Loop to the former USWA local 1033 headquaters at 11731 Ave. O, take I-90/94 (Dan Ryan Expy) South and merge with the I-94 (Bishop Ford Fwy). Then, exit at 103rd .St and turn East to Torrence. Ave, and turn South to 106.St and turn East to Ave. O. Then, drive South to 117th .St and stop at 11731 Ave O, enter the parking lot. Memorial sculpture is to the North at 117TH. St by the fire station (this was dedicated in 2008).
From here you can reach the Pullman community in ten minutes. Backtrack to 103rd and Torrence. Ave and trun West on 103rd. Then, turn South on Cottage Grove. Ave and 111.St, the Florence Hotel is in site to the East.
"There will come a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!"
August Spies, Haymarket Martyr
Five score years so soon are gone
That crown that fateful hanging day,
Yet still the years live on and on
And never will they go away!
Eight doomed martyrs spoke their dreams:
An eight-hour day, their modest hope;
For such effrontery it seems
Four lives were snatched by hangman's rope!
But by a miracle of fate
The voices still ring loud and clear;
The voices stilled by cruel hate
Are heard today, this hundreth year!
So many years have passed them by,
Yet louder still the timeless call
Rings 'round the world, a battle cry
For workers' rights, for peace for all!
Raise high the flag, you workers brave,
March strong and steady, side by side,
On First of May this hundredth year,
So not in vain those martyrs died!
by Susan King
A list of historical events that happened in the month of May.
(In 1995 and 1996 President Clinton proclaimed the month of May as Labor History Month. It is presumed that he will do so again in 1997.)
1830...Birth of Mother Jones.
1886...March of the 80,000 up Michigan Avenue for the Eight Hour Day.
1951...Founding of the Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians Union.
1911...Passage of the Illinois Workman's Compensation Law, which Dr. Alice Hamilton helped to get passed.
1886...Workers killed and injured by police at McCormick Reaper Plant.
1886...Haymarket Square Meeting, Police Attack, and the Bomb thrown by someone unknown.
1852...Founding of the Typographical Union.
1886...Police attack on Jewish Workers from the Chicago West Side as they tried to march into the Loop to protest slum conditions.
1888...Founding of the International Association of Machinists.
1926...Founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters by A. Philip Randolph and Milton P. Webster.
1916...Founding of the American Federation of Teachers.
1934...Longshoremen's General Strike on West Coast.
1937...Founding of Transport Workers Union.
1894...Pullman Strike begins.
1958...Founding of the Laundry and Dry Cleaning Union.
1893...Founding of the Western Federation of Miners, the union of Big Bill Haywood, later head of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
1935...Passage of the National Labor Relations Act.
1934...Teamsters Strike for Recognition in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
1937...Founding of Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union.
1926...Passage of the Railway Labor Act.
1895...Eugene V. Debs enters Woodstock, Ill., jail after trial for injunction violation during Pullman Strike.
1932...Bonus Marchers arrive in Washington, D.C., to protest unemployment.
1937...Battle of the Overpass--Walter Reuther and the UAW in Detroit.
1937...Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel in South Chicago.
NOTE...Compiled by WILLIAM J. ADELMAN, Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society
McDowell headed the settlement house in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. A contemporary of Jane Addams.
Sometimes called the "Angel of the Stockyards," Mary McDowell preferred to think of herself as Concerned Citizen. The Head of the University of Chicago Settlement from its inception in 1894, she reached out from that base to promote trade unionism and safer working conditions, woman suffrage, inter-racial understanding, and reforms in municipal waste disposal.
Her abolitionist father brought the family from Cincinnati to Chicago after the Civil War. In the 1880s Mary McDowell worked with the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which advocated the right of women to vote. Her experiences at Hull-House and strong sympathies for the striking railroad workers in 1894 prompted her to devote the rest of her life to the settlement house in Back of the Yards, and to labor reform. McDowell assisted Michael Donnelly, organizer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, and took the initiative in starting Local 183 for female employees. During the bitter 1904 packinghouse strike, she was a staunch supporter and interpreter of the union cause.
While representing the union at the 1903 American Federation of Labor convention, she joined with others to establish a national Women's Trade Union League. As the first president of the Illinois branch of the WTUL, she recruited glovemaker Agnes Nestor, and boot and shoe worker, Mary Anderson into the battle for shorter hours for factory women in Illinois. McDowell was also instrumental in persuading President Theodore Roosevelt to authorize the first federal investigation of working conditions and w ages for women and children in industry.
She was a watchdog for safe working conditions and decent wages for women during World War I, and spoke on these issues to women's organizations, and as Chicago's Mayor William Dever's Commissioner of the Department of Public Welfare in the 1920s. Agnes Nestor was correct when she said that Mary McDowell's "influence was not to be found in the offices she held, but in the human relationships she strengthened and the social vision she imparted."
Prof. Louise C. Wade
University of Oregon
Some follow-up questions to check out:
What was a Settlement House?
What went on at the one McDowell ran?
What was the Women's Trade Union League about?
The life story of Agnes Nestor would be a good research project. Same for Mary Anderson.
The "striking railroad workers" of 1894, mentioned above, was the Great Pullman Strike and Boycott. What was so "great" about that?
There is a reference above to a packinghouse worker strike by the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in 1904. What brought that about, and what can you find out about McDowell's activities in that connection?
An interesting angle here: McDowell's settlement house was connected to the University of Chicago. One of the main donors to the University was the owner of Swift and Company, one of the biggest meat packing companies in the country. Swift's Chicago pl ant was involved in the strike.
Mary McDowell's papers can studied in the manuscript archives of the Chicago Historical Society. A good book on the packinghouse workers of the period is: Work and Community in the Jungle, by James Barrett, (1987).
A serious Labor Day Address made by the President of Southwest Missouri State University, Dr. John Keiser.
For five hundred years America has depended on and glorified work. The United States was built by the farmers, the itinerant craftsmen, the indentured servants and the slaves who settled the frontier, by the tradesmen who constructed the cities, the gandy dancers who laid the railroad tracks, and their brothers who operated the trains, the miners who provided the fuel and metals, the teamsters and sailors who opened the doors of national and international commerce, the men and women who turned the wheels of major industries, the clerks in the nationwide retail establishments, the providers in the service industries, and the technicians who facilitate the information highway.
Their work was valued by all elements of society, rich and poor alike, as a necessary ingredient to settling a continent, to making the capitalist free enterprise system strong and profitable, to winning wars, and to making peace civilized and comfortable. They came first from Europe, then Africa, and more recently from South America and Asia, to work and to mix t heir sweat, their dreams, and their genes to create an ever-new nation. It was their work and the Constitution of the United States that united each generation of newcomers to America with those already here.
Work has been emphasized and praised by our finest leaders and authors. Abraham Lincoln put it simply when he said, "All that serves labor serves the union. All that harms labor is treason to America. No line can be drawn between these two." And when W alt Whitman, America's best poet, wrote, "I hear America Singing," he wrote only of workers. It is worth recalling on Labor Day. It goes like this:
"I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be, blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else..."
The problem, of course, was that while nearly everyone was stressing the virtue and the significance of work, too many forgot the worker. Lincoln regretted the spirit and said (ironically), "You toil and earn bread and I'll eat it." In the first steel mills the process seemed to be to grind up a load of ore, a load of coke, and a load of workers to produce a ton of steel. Labor became a factor of production, and too many forgot that one of the essential industrial elements was human, and deserved to be treated that way.
It was, of course, the failure to do so that led to the establishment of organized labor. The message of the early 19th century craft unions and workingmen's political parties, the inclusive Knights of Labor, the skilled crafts of the American Federation of Labor, and the industrial unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, was that work (praised and valued by all), cannot be separated from the treatment, reward, and respect accorded the worker. Their efforts and those of the men and women who led them to achieve a fair share of what their work produced is what Labor Day is about.
It was the organized worker who registered gains in reasonable hours and wages, safety, and sufficient security and benefits to lead dignified lives. They campaigned to broaden the franchise, for universal public education, and for equitable treatment before the law.
Through apprenticeship programs skills were passed down to young workers. Neighborhoods and communities were formed to meet the needs of those who shared their workday with one another. American presidents praised those who made the tools to win the nation's wars. SMSU is proud to have the labor history archives, which records that story in the Ozarks, on its campus. I urge you to help us make it complete and accessible.
Since the mid-1970s, the challenges of the modern world have made explaining the importance of work and representing the worker more difficult than at any time in this century. In my hometown where everyone once was a coal miner and dependent on a sing le industry, work was easily understood by young people. In Springfield, Missouri, today, with forty or fifty different manufacturing establishments, a bewildering number of service industry jobs, many close to the minimum wage, and the cynicism and temptations of everyday life, work is much tougher to explain to young people than it once was.
In the face of multi-wage earner families, new immigrants, competitive employer-sponsored assistance programs, increasing numbers of part-time employees, stagflation, foreign competition and a global market, deregulation and new forms of competition, and occasional leaders who live off the organization instead of for it, effectively representing workers is much more complex than it once was. In a society where individual behavior of the most extreme fashion seems to command greatest attention, "Solidarity Forever," is not a compelling rallying cry.
What all citizens must understand, however, is that a democratic America in the 21st Century depends upon the importance of work, as well as upon the dignity of and respect for the worker. Those commitments have rarely been more important, and Labor Day is the time to make that point.
Delivering that message is not a task for the labor leader alone, for those who will make the greatest contribution will learn how to work with many groups. As a person whose family is buried in the only labor-owned cemetery in America, in graves whose deed says they do not own the coal beneath them, I wish our present and future leaders well.
Thank you for asking me to be with you today.
John H. Keiser
Labor Day Address
September 4, 1995
Note: Dr. Keiser gave the above address at the 1995 Labor Day Parade and Picnic in Springfield, Mo. He shared the platform, at that time, with Governor Mel Carnahan and IBEW International Secretary Jack Moore. Dr. Keiser is the President of Southwest Missouri State University which houses the Ozark Labor Union Archives. The university campus is located in Springfield, Mo.
A former professor of history, Dr. Keiser is a native of Mount Olive, Illinois, the location of the Union Miners' Cemetery where Mother Jones is buried "among my boys." Mount Olive lies between Springfield, Ill. and St. Louis, Mo. A visit to the Cemetery and its impressive monument is well worth a short detour to the east from I-55. It lies on the western edge of the town, and can be easily found; or just ask anyone for directions.
Note: You can find the extraordinary story of how the Union Miners Cemetery came to be, and that of some fascinating characters who are buried there, in the pages of The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Autumn, 1969. Look for "The Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive, Illinois: A Spirit Thread of Labor History." The author? Dr. John Keiser! Perhaps, your local library can acquire it for you.
A tribute to the life of the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, now deceased.
We have gathered to celebrate the induction into the Union Hall of Honor of the Illinois Labor History Society, of one who was for almost ten years the Chicago area's most visible union leader in this age of the nightly news on TV.
As the leader and spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union, the late Jacqueline B. Vaughn was a frequent vision on the screen, addressing the issues and interests of both teachers and students in her calm yet firm voice. Clearly and succinctly, with dignity and style, she presented the union's position through the years while school crisis after crisis seized the public's attention.
What those of us who were not among her colleagues at union headquarters could not have known, however, are things about her gift for consensus building among members of the leadership team; and, indeed, among the men and women in the trenches, the teachers and support staff within the schools.
Nor could we be aware of her interests, at both the structural and content level, in educational reform that would bring about a better learning environment in the classroom, and better instruction to the students.
It was her vision that captured $1,000,000 worth of attention from the MacArthur Foundation in support of the Chicago Teachers Union's Quest Center. The Center gives teams of personnel at individual schools a place to design their own more effective methods to structure the teaching process, on the one hand, and student learning on the other.
More than 2,000 CTU members have attended Quest Center classes and conferences. There are now over forty-five schools with individually structured educational environments in place, tailored to fit their particular educational goals.
Jacque, as she liked to be called, came to the union leadership from the classroom. She began her collective bargaining apprenticeship in 1968 under the presidency of John Desmond. She went through no less than nine strikes as a member of the bargaining team. She was elected vice-president of the CTU in 1972, and became its president on July 9, 1984.
This extraordinary woman was able to be wife, mother, and labor union executive in a host of leadership capacities. She became a vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers as far back as 1974. She was elected president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers in 1989, and undertook leadership responsibilities for its 70,000 members state-wide.
Still, she found time to serve on policy boards of public and private agencies and organizations; and, of course, the Pilgrim Baptist Church where she was among the most devoted and active of members.
Jacque Vaughn was unstoppable. Even her illness, debilitating though it was, could not keep her sidelined from the tense contract negotiations of 1993. The essential elements of the contract were saved, despite the intense "take-away" pressures that besieged the union from many sides.
As President Tom Reece, whom she called her "right arm" has observed, "she left us footprints, not only behind her, but leading ahead. We intend to follow them."
So can we all.
November 19, 1994
reprinted from Decatur Herald & Review - Sunday, December 12, 2004
By AMY HOAK - H&R Staff Writer
DECATUR - If the Rev. Martin Mangan were alive, he'd turn 75 years old today.
If he had the energy, the St. James priest would still be fighting for justice in the workplace, say those who knew him. He'd be urging corporations to see that people should come before profit, that workers' rights should always trump any bottom line.
And if local labor's epitome of social justice was there to accept the honor bestowed upon him Saturday night at the Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly's annual community services and awards banquet, he would have done so quite modestly.
"He would have been quite humbled by it," said Sister Glenda Bourgeois, who worked closely with Mangan during his days at St. James Catholic Church.
Mangan was posthumously inducted into the Illinois Labor History Society's Union Hall of Honor on Saturday, a distinction bestowed on only about 10 downstate leaders and a couple of priests during the 20 years it has been in existence
Every year, two or three Illinoisans who have had a significant impact on workers rights are chosen as recipients, and most are from Chicago, said Mike Matejka, who is on the state labor history board and presented the award Bourgeois accepted. Many prior inductees worked in the early 1900s, he said.
Mangan, however, was a contemporary labor advocate conditioned by the civil rights movement in the 1960s who later came to bring strength to local unions facing off with their ever-competitive corporate bosses.
"He had a real sense of social justice," Matejka said. "He brought an appreciation for Catholic teaching - that people came before profit."
He also did it without any airs of self-importance, agreed Matejka and Bourgeois.
Some of Mangan's most remembered moments came during Decatur's labor unrest in the mid-1990s. He once stood chained for 12 hours to a fence outside A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., protesting the 12-hour workday of those inside. He was also one of scores arrested for trespassing during a demonstration at the plant.
In September 2001, Mangan lost a battle with cancer at the age of 71.
Local historian and Macon County Board member Bob Sampson works to keep Mangan's spirit alive through a "Friends of Mitz" group, which hosts lectures and whose members wear lapel buttons bearing the letters "FOM" on them.
Mike Shampine says he likes to think the Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly also has continued Mangan's tradition. Shampine is president of the organization, which serves as an umbrella for local AFL-CIO unions.
"We champion those standing out and speaking out against wrongs done against workers," he said, then quickly shifted gears to lament the large number of union jobs lost during the past 3Â½ years. New jobs in the service industry often don't provide an even swap for the good-paying union jobs lost, he said.
Mangan would have had the same complaints, Shampine said.
Though Mangan got involved in labor issues during a lockout at Staley and strikes at Bridgestone/Firestone and Caterpillar Inc., he still would have no trouble finding labor issues to work on in the community, said Bourgeois.
"Whenever he saw rights denied, he stepped up to the plate," she said.
As a reminder of that, the plaque she accepted Saturday will be hung in the vestibule of St. James, next to a picture of the revered father.
"He's a legend," she said.
The Martyrs' Monument by sculptor, Albert Weinert, takes its inspiration from "La Marseillaise", the national anthem of France. It was a favorite of Albert Parsons and he sang it in his cell just prior to his trip to the gallows. A laurel wreath is placed on the brow of the fallen hero, as the figure of Justice advances, resolutely toward the future.
The story of the Haymarket Martyrs, and their monument in Forest Home Cemetery, begins at a convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1884. The Federation (the predecessor to the American Federation of Labor) called for a great movement to win the 8-hour workday, which would climax on May 1, 1886.
The plan was to spend two years urging all American employers to adopt a standard 8-hour day, instead of the 10 to 12, even up to 16-hour days that were prevalent. After May 1 of 1886, all workers not yet on an 8-hour schedule, were to cease work in a nation-wide strike until their employer would meet the demand.
Although some employers did meet the deadline, many did not. Accordingly, great demonstrations took place on May 1 all across the country. Chicago's was the biggest with an estimated 80,000 marching on Michigan Avenue, much to the alarm of Chicago's business leaders and newspapers who saw it as foreshadowing "revolution," and demanded a police crackdown.
In fact, the Anarchists and other political radicals in Chicago were reluctant to have anything to do with the 8-hour day strike, which they saw as "reformist;" but they were prevailed upon by the unionists to participate because Albert Parsons and others were such powerful orators and had a substantial following.
A mass meeting was called for the night of May 4, 1886 in the city haymarket at Randolph St. and DesPlaines Ave. Its purpose was to protest a police action from the previous day in which strikers and their supporters at the McCormick Reaper plant on Blue Island Ave. had been killed and injured by police.
The mass meeting in the haymarket was so poorly planned that the organizers had to round up speakers, including Parsons, at the spur of the moment. A rain began to fall, and as the last speaker was concluding, a large force of 200 police arrived with a demand that the meeting disperse.
Someone, unknown to this day, then threw a bomb at the massed police. In their confusion, the police began firing their weapons in the dark, killing at least four in the crowd and wounding many more. Several police were killed (only one by the bomb), the rest probably by police fire. The myth of the Haymarket Riot was born.
In the aftermath of the event, unions were raided all across the country. The Eight-Hour Movement was derailed and it was not until passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935, that the 8-hour workday became the national standard, a part of the Fair Labor Standards Act passed during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal."
Albert Parsons and seven others associated with radical organizations were prosecuted in a show trial. None were linked to the unknown bomb thrower, and some were not even present at the time. They were held to be responsible for the bomb thrower's act, because their public criticism of corporate America, the political structure, and the use of police power against the working people, was alleged to have inspired the bomber.
They were found guilty in a trial which Governor John Peter Altgeld subsequently held to be grossly unfair. On June 26, 1894, Altgeld pardoned those defendants still alive and in prison; but Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel had been hanged, and Lingg was an apparent suicide.
The Haymarket case became a world-wide scandal. Governor Oglesby was petitioned by hundreds of thousands, including AFL President Samuel Gompers, to grant clemency, and thus prevent a miscarriage of justice by stopping the executions. It was to no avail. They were hanged on November 11, 1887.
In July of 1889, a delegate from the AFL attending an international labor conference in Paris, urged that May 1 of each year be celebrated as a day of labor solidarity. It was adopted. Accordingly, with the exception of the United States, workers throughout the world consider May First to be their "Labor Day."
The Martyrs' Monument in Forest Home Cemetery is now held in trust by the Illinois Labor History Society, the gift of Irving S. Abrams, the sole surviving member of the Pioneer Aid and Support Society which had erected the monument, and dedicated it on June 25, 1893.
Today, the monument can be looked upon as a shrine to the Bill of Rights, specifically to the right to free speech, and the right to assemble and present grievances as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The men to whose agony the monument is sacred, were victimized by a public opinion and a state power which stifled truth, and trampled upon the peoples' right to assemble and state their grievances, as they had tried to do in the haymarket.
A Reminder to Us All
The monument can be seen as a reminder that a great movement for a more humane workplace was also strangled with the Martyrs. When we gather in its presence, we also recall the untold millions of working men and women whose unremitting toil and suffering was prolonged for more than forty years by the Tragedy of the Haymarket. The Haymarket Monument was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. Please visit the bookstore for a number of books and videos which address the Haymarket Tragedy.
Forest Home Cemetery is just south of the Eisenhower Expressway on Desplaines St, in Forest Park, IL. Eastbound traffic should exit at Desplaines. Westbound should exit at 1st Ave., Maywood. Re-enter Expressway eastbound. Take next exit and turn right (south). Proceed to cemetery entrance, then take left fork to the Monument.
By Robert D. Sampson, Ph.D. This piece originally appeared in the Illinois Times, July 22-28, 1993.
Exiled 40 years in the political wilderness, a major party triumphs, led by a self-made real estate tycoon who captures the governor's office. Within six months, ignoring threats to his own and his party's future, this leader moves to redress one of the most shameful injustices in the state's history.
A good scenario for a movie, perhaps with Frank Capra directing, Jimmy Stewart playing the governor and Lionel Barrymore as a bigoted, reactionary newspaper editor out to ruin the governor. However, this is not a script treatment but reality--events that occurred a century ago in Springfield, Illinois when Governor John Peter Altgeld dared to defy the combined financial, political, and journalistic powers of the state simply to do the right thing.
Today, the notion of freeing three innocent men from the jail cells where they had languished for seven years seems not only logical but popular. But when Altgeld boldly scrawled his name across the pardons for Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab on June 26, 1893, he unleashed upon himself a torrent of political and personal abuse from such "respectable" organs as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times that has rarely been matched.
As surely as the term "communist" during the McCarthy era was enough to brand an individual undeserving of simple justice and constitutional rights, affixing the description "anarchist" to one in late 19th-Century America made them fair game for an uneasy and vindictive ruling class that in Chicago and other places controlled the courts and the press.
Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab were the survivors of the Haymarket martyrs--originally a group of eight men who were charged with murder following the explosion of a bomb at a Chicago labor rally on May 4, 1886 that killed several policemen. None of the eight was ever tied to the bomb, some were not even at the rally when the explosion occurred and the bombthrower was never found. But the Chicago establishment, led by Joseph Medill's Tribune, saw the incident as a chance to wipe out the leadership of the city's radical labor movement and send a message to all who would seek just wages, decent working conditions, and reduced hours for working men and women.
In a trial that Altgeld would later expose as riddled by abuses from jury-packing to blatantly biased rulings from the judge, the eight were convicted on evidence consisting of nothing more than popular passion and prejudice. Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer died on the gallows. Louis Lingg committed suicide in his jail cell. Weak- willed Gov. Richard Ogelsby, who privately admitted the innocence of the men, worked up enough spine to reduce the sentences of Fielden and Schwab to life in prison. Neebe, who even the state's prosecutor confided was innocent, received a sentence of 15 years.
Those enjoying increasingly concentrated wealth in Chicago had little patience with working people, especially those of foreign birth, who had the gall to stand up for their rights. Such activities were seen as a threat to the free market, the individual's right to work 10 to 12 hours a day for a pittance.
Among the men on the make in Chicago, however, was a German immigrant and attorney who had a talent for real estate speculation. A wandering youth that included stints as a schoolteacher, a Union soldier in the Civil War, and a prosecuting attorney in Missouri eventually led John Peter Altgeld to America's great market arena. His speculations paid off and his wealth steadily mounted, leaving him more time to pursue his political ambitions.
Clues to Altgeld's emergence from the scramble for riches with his sense of humanity intact can be found in his rugged background and foreign birth. He was an outsider and never forgot that there were those who would bar his way simply because of place of birth.
Though defying objective documentation, there is another clue to Altgeld's later actions in his official portrait. It reveals a bearded, medium-sized man with short hair combed forward. Nothing particularly stands out save the eyes, just as they do in surviving photographs. Altgeld's eyes shine with a softness, conveying a sympathy and compassion that animates the soul.
Yet, Altgeld was also a calculating, ambitious politician. Failing to gain election to the U.S. Senate by the Democratic-controlled state legislature in 1890, he set his sights on the governor's mansion. Two years later, putting $100,000 of his own fortune into the race, he led Illinois Democrats back into the governor's office they had not won in 40 years. It was a sweep of state offices, the Presidency, and many congressional seats that promised bright things for the state's beleaguered Democracy.
Almost from the time the four Haymarket martyrs died, some in the Chicago business community began having second thoughts about the trial. Labor organizations, too, were pressing for justice for the survivors. Many eminent and respectable citizens were hoping the new governor would do the right thing, though more than a few were like former U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, whose fear of losing corporate legal business may have been the reason he refused to go public with his support for pardons.
Altgeld's inauguration brought expectations from labor and reformers in general that, finally, justice would be done. On the other hand, there were those in powerful positions who would accept no acknowledgment of error, who stood ready to defame anyone who tried.
Aware of the dangers, Altgeld confided to Clarence Darrow, who was among those pressing him for the pardons, "If I conclude to pardon those men it will not meet with the approval that you expect; let me tell you that from that day I will be a dead man politically."
Slightly more than a month before he signed the pardons, Altgeld addressed the graduating seniors at the University of Illinois, seeking to reassure himself, perhaps, as much as convince the young men and women before him.
"Let sunlight into dark places and the poisons collected there disappear," he told them. "So with the dark places in the government and civil affairs that are now festering with wrong; let the sunlight of eternal truth and justice shine on them and they will disappear.
"Wherever there is wrong; point it out to all the world, and you can trust the people to right it; wrongs thrive in secrecy and darkness."
Early on the morning of June 26, Altgeld determined to let that light in and summoned an assistant secretary of state, Brand Whitlock, later a reform mayor of Toledo, Ohio and novelist, to his office. Before others had arrived to begin work at the state capitol, Altgeld directed Whitlock to prepare the pardons and affix the state seal.
Informed of the pardons, the Democratic Secretary of State complained of the possible effect on the party's fortunes. "No man," Altgeld replied, "has the right to allow his ambition to stand in the way of the performance of a simple act of justice."
Making the pardons more powerful was the fact that rather than simple acts of executive clemency, they were accompanied by detailed and damning evidence showing the indictments, trial, executions, and prison terms to be a gross miscarriage of justice.
Backed by depositions from witnesses and with unforgiving legal logic, Altgeld clearly laid out the chain of actions that rigged the process. The state's star witness, who allegedly saw the whole incident, was actually--according to the testimony of 10 prominent Chicagoans who knew him--an "inveterate liar." The bailiff in charge of the jury pool purposely selected men he knew would convict. The judge allowed friends of the slain policemen on the jury and denied defense challenges to obviously biased jurors.
Exposed for the world to see was the blatant falsehood of the state's case and the manner in which justice had been perverted by those with wealth and power. It was bitter medicine, too bitter to swallow.
"Fielden's simple creed of 'Kill the law; stab the law; throttle the law' is expanded by the Governor," declared the Chicago Tribune. What could one expect from a man like Altgeld, observed the Washington Post, who was, of course, "an alien himself." The New York Times questioned Altgeld's motivations, charging he "would have developed into an out-and-out Anarchist if his lucky real estate speculations had not turned the course of his natural tendencies." And the Tribune concluded that the governor had not "a drop of true American blood in his veins. He does not reason like an American, does not feel like one, and consequently does not behave like one."
Similar attacks poured in from around the country. Close to home, Altgeld found some relief in the pages of Springfield's Illinois State Register and the Decatur Daily Review which supported his stand, the Review noting that had Altgeld not issued the pardons based on the evidence he would have been "a coward, unfit for the position which he occupied."
Three and a half years remained in Altgeld's term and he continued to expose the "dark places" to the "sunlight of eternal truth and justice." Playing a leading role in overthrowing the callous and conservative leadership of President Grover Cleveland in the Democratic Party, Altgeld thrust William Jennings Bryan to the forefront and helped lay the groundwork for his party's reformist ideology in the 20th Century.
He never escaped the attacks of the defenders of privilege and the status quo, whose editorial writers flayed him and whose cartoonists mercilessly portrayed him as a torch-bearing, wild-eyed radical. With the rest of the Democratic ticket, he went down to defeat in 1896.
No doubt, he would be disturbed by the uniqueness of his act of political courage. "This was the deed of a brave heart, and it will live as such in history," one of the men he pardoned wrote him. Altgeld likely would have preferred it to become the norm, forgotten amid countless similar examples of political courage.
Even his last day in office offered no escape from bitterness. Triumphant Republicans denied him the normal courtesy of a farewell address so his went undelivered. "In my judgment no epitaph can be written upon the tomb of a public man that will so surely win the contempt of the ages than to say of him that he held office all of his life and never did anything for humanity," he was prepared to say that day.
A century later, Altgeld's action looms even larger in a day of poll-driven politicians too often dancing to the tune of lobbyists and campaign donors. Altgeld was no saint. He could maneuver and demagogue and pass out jobs and contracts with the toughest pros of his day. Behind those eyes, though, beat a heart in tune with the aspirations of those on the outside, a heart that hated injustice, a heart with the courage to act.
Lucy Parsons, widow of the martyred Albert, said it best. "He was a man before he was a politician."
TO LEARN MORE
There are several books that deal with the Haymarket Tragedy and Governor John P. Altgeld's pardons. Although more than 60 years old, Harry Barnard's classic Altgeld biography, Eagle Forgotten, is still the best. A more recent study of the events surrounding Haymarket and its aftermath (including Altgeld's role and the Pardon) is Paul Avrich's The Haymarket Tragedy. Ray Ginger's Altgeld's America is highly readable and informative.
Available from the Illinois Labor History Society is the Barnard book, and several other items related to the Haymarket event, including Haymarket Revisited, a tour guide by William Adelman. A guide to the Martyrs Monument, and the many surrounding burials in Forest Home (Waldheim) Cemetery, Forest Park, Ill., is The Day Will Come.