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450 S Michigan Ave, AUD 1851
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Illinois Labor History Society

Labor History Articles

Gene Debs and the American Railway Union

Webtrax Admin

Under Locomotive Fireman Gene Debs' leadership, the American Railway Union (ARU) was formed in Chicago on June 20, 1893 as a single organization representing all crafts of railroad employees.

Within the year the ARU had 125 locals, as thousands rushed to join the new type of union. Whole lodges of established craft unions voted to affiliate with the ARU---and just in time for a fight!

The Great Northern Railroad had begun cutting wages in August of 1893, with more cuts made in January and in March of 1894. In April, ARU workers voted to strike. The Great Northern was completely shut down for 18 days, and wages were restored as a result of an arbitration award. Workers were joining the ARU at the rate of 2,000 a day!

The Pullman Palace Car workers were among them. The Pullman shop workers went on a strike of their own (also against wage cuts) in May of 1894. After hearing a stirring address by Jennie Curtis, the youthful leader of the women workers in the Pullman Shops, a convention of the American Railway Union voted to support the Pullman workers by refusing to work any trains that included Pullman cars.

Thus, the Pullman Strike escalated into a nation-wide struggle between the railroad companies and the ARU. The union boycott of Pullman cars was extremely effective, particularly on the transcontinental lines extending west from Chicago.

The Railroad Managers however, had an association of their own, and they saw an opportunity to crush the infant ARU. Their strategy was to order Pullman cars hooked to U.S. Mail trains. The ARU members would then refuse to work the mail train. This development quickly brought the government into the case on the side of the Railroad Managers.

Over the objections of Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld President Cleveland ordered federal troops into Chicago and other points to insure the passage of the mail trains. Mobs assaulted the strikebreakers and troops. The court issued an injunction against the ARU and its forbade its leaders to communicate with the members (not even to order a stop to the violence!). Debs was arrested for alleged conspiracy to interfere with the mail and violation of the injunction. He was jailed for six months in rural Woodstock, Illinois, far from Chicago where it was feared that there might be mass demonstrations in protest.

The boycott collapsed and the American Railway Union was destroyed, just as the Railway Managers had planned. The strike at Pullman, also, ended in defeat for the union.

There are some interesting sidelights to this study in power relationships.

President Cleveland's Attorney General, who handled the government's intervention was Richard Olney, a former railroad attorney.
A Special Counsel was appointed by Cleveland (no doubt on Olney's advice) to deal on the ground with the ARU boycott. The Special Counsel was Edward Walker, attorney for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad.
Debs' defense attorney was Clarence Darrow. Darrow had been an attorney for one of the railroads, but resigned in disgust and offered his services to Debs. He went on to become a renowned defender of labor unions under legal attack.
While in the Woodstock jail, Debs concluded that labor needed to have its own political power. Accordingly, he became a socialist, and the presidential standard bearer for the Socialist Party for the rest of his life, at one point garnering over a million votes while he was actually in federal prison for opposition to America's entry into World War I.

Reference:

* The Pullman Strike, by Lindsey Almont*
* Touring Pullman, by William Adelman*
* The Pullman Strike, by William Carwardine*
* Story of Pullman Strike (Juvenile)*
* Palace Car Prince, by Leyendecker
* Eagle Forgotten, by Harry Barnard*
* E.V.Debs, by Bernard Brommel*

* Available from ILHS by mail order purchase

Things to Do:

A field trip to the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago will be very rewarding. George Pullman's model town remains very much as it was 100 years ago. It is architecturally intact, including the Florence Hotel where you can still get an excellent Sunday brunch. Get a copy of Adelman's Touring Pullman, and walk the streets with this little guide book. You will stop at the Greenstone Church, find the houses of the strike leaders, the company doctor, and so on. Group visits should contact the Historic Pullman Foundation, 773-785-8181. They can arrange for guides.

Students interested in Pullman Strike projects may consult the Illinois Labor History Society.

Franklin Rosemont Remembered

Webtrax Admin

Sadly, the Illinois Labor History Society reports the death of Franklin Rosemont, managing editor of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., arguably this country's most important publisher of labor, radical and what might be called "alternative" books.

Organized in 1886, the Kerr Company introduced Marx to the American political discussion through publication of the Communist Manifesto. Kerr also published the International Socialist Review. During the great Pullman Strike of 1894, Kerr brought out The Pullman Strike by Rev. William Carwardine, Methodist minister at Pullman, which provided a full account of the workers' grievances against the Company. When Mother Jones wrote her Autobiography, it was at the behest of Kerr who published this classic in 1925 with an introduction by Clarence Darrow. The Autobiography and The Pullman Strike were reprinted under the sponsorship of the Illinois Labor History Society in 1971-72, shortly after the founding of the Society in 1969.

A member of the IWW since his childhood, Franklin was the son of Henry Rosemont, a prominent figure in the Chicago Typographical Union, and of Sally Rosemont, a jazz musician and union member. He was elected to the Board of Trustees of the ILHS in 1981, where he served until his untimely death at age 65 on April 12, 2009. He and his wife Penelope, Secretary-Treasurer of the Kerr Company, were inducted into the Union Hall of Honor of the Illinois Labor History Society in 2005. The citation describes them as "faithful stewards of the Charles H. Kerr Company, publishers of labor and radical classics since 1886."

Franklin was an author in his own right, his most recent book being Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture. Profuse with IWW illustrations, it should be in every labor historian's collection. Another of his major contributions is the Haymarket Scrapbook, written with David Roediger in 1986 to mark the centennial of the Haymarket Tragedy. The Big Red Song Book was his most recent collaboration with David Roediger, Salvatore Salerno and the late great folklorist Archie Green.

Les Orear
President Emeritus
Illinois Labor History Society

First Labor Day Parade

Webtrax Admin

An account of the labor parade in New York City (and the secret reason why it was held) which became the first Labor Day Parade.

[Ted Watts is the author of The First Labor Day Parade, a fascinating little booklet which describes the very first Labor Day Parade as the various contingents came past the reviewing stand. The booklet is available from the Illinois Labor History Society ($5.00).]

The first parade was not held on a Monday, but on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. The parade was repeated annually without interruption, but not always on a Monday, until several states and then the Congress in 1894, settled on the first Monday in September.

Those first parades were really protest rallies for the adoption of the 8-hour day, rather than the, often tame civic events they have involved into. Participants had to give up a day's pay in order to march. The New York City Central Labor Union (CLU) even levied a fine on non-participants!

In 1882, the New York City CLU was a lodge of the still-secret Knights of Labor, with a progressive tailor, Robert Blissert at its head. His right-hand man and Secretary of the CLU was Mathew Maguire, a machinist. The parade was timed to coincide with a national Kinghts of Labor conference being held in New York. This accounts for the presence of almost the entire K of L leadership on the reviewing stand. But their affiliation with labor was masked for the reporters who covered the parade. Grand Master Workman Terrence Powderley, for example, was introduced as the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which he, in fact, was.

The parade Call and all invitations were sent out over the signature of Mathew Maguire. During the post-parade picnic at Wendel's Elm Park, P.J. McGuire of the Carpenters, was one of many speakers; but he does not figure during the planning for the parade.

By the 1890's, when the Knights of Labor had all but disappeared, and Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor was the dominant labor organization, the folklore about the origins of labor's holiday began.

Robert Blisset was no longer a labor activist. He had become a custom tailor with his own shop in Manhattan. Mathew Maguire had moved to New Jersey, where he became very active in the Socialist Labor Party. P.J. McGuire became a member of the AFL Carpenters' hierarchy.

Gompers simply re-wrote history to conform to the spirit of his new American Federation of Labor by crediting P.J. McGuire with the Labor Day Parade idea. Because the AFL was very non-political, the fact that Mathew Maguire had the effrontery to run as the Vice Presidential candidate on the National Socialist Labor Party ticket in 1896 erased his chances of recognition as the father of Labor Day. Blissert was conveniently out of the Labor Movement.

All of this, and more, can be found in greater fun and detail within my little book, The First Labor Day Parade.

Ted Watts,
Silver Spring, MD.

Fannie Sellens

Webtrax Admin

A famous labor organizer of the early 20th Century, killed by deputies during a Pennsylvania coal mine strike.

By Mara Lou Hawse
Coal Research Center
Southern Illinois University

Fannie Sellins was a labor organizer--and from all accounts, she was an exceptional one. But she paid with her life.

According to Russell W. Gibbons, of the Philip Murray Institute of Labor Studies, Sellins was "a heroine of labor who made the ultimate sacrifice for [the] union cause."

"William Z. Foster, leader of the great steel strike of 1919, called Sellins "one of the best of our whole corps of organizers. . . . [She] had an exceptional belief in the workers and she went out and organized them. . . . She took the initiative and in the midst of terror went out to her work."

Sellins was a contemporary of Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, and like Jones, "[Sellins'] work as a female labor organizer was radical,especially for that period of time," said Anthony Slomkoski, III, current president of United Steelworkers Local No. 1196, in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.

Sellins was born Fannie Mooney in New Orleans in 1872. She married a garment worker, Charles Sellins, in St. Louis; after his death, she took a job in a garment shop to support herself and her four children. Eventually she moved from St. Louis to Chicago and soon was involved with the union movement there. She helped organize the United Garment Workers of America, became secretary of her garment workes' local, and in 1911, participated in a major strike.

Later, because of her outstanding abilities, she became an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America. She was sent to work in the nonunion coalfields of West Virginia; there she was charged with "inciting to riot" and was sent to prison. She served six months of her sentence before she was pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson.

In 1917 Sellins moved to New Kensington, Pennsylvania, to work under labor leader Philip Murray, as an organizer and troubleshooter for UMWA District 5. She quickly became involved in the union's efforts to organize miners in the Allegheny Valley, a notoriously antiunion area. It was known as the Black Valley because of "the vehement, and often violent, opposition that union organizers met at the hands of mine owners. Due largely to Sellins efforts, many thousands of miners and other workers in this district were organized."

Foster describes Sellins as "an able speaker . . . possessed of boundless courage, energy, enthusiasm and idealism. . . . She was the very heart of the local labor movement. . . . [and] earned the undying hatred of the . . . employers in the benighted Black Valley district."

She spread the tenets of Americanism among immigrant miners, and as she changed their expectations, they became disenchanted with their poor living conditions and began to demand more for their labor. Sellins "understood that no labor household could sustain a strike unless they had the backing of the women," according to Pennsylvania State University historian Dr. Carl Meyerhuber.

The United Mine Workers Journal called Sellins an "Angel of Mercy," who went into the miners' homes, talking to their wives, taking care of their sick, and helping them in other ways. "Whenever there was a strike, with its inevitable suffering, Mrs. Sellins was found, caring for the women and children through the dark days of the struggle." Historian George Korson wrote that Sellins was "a legend which inspires the workers' wives and daughters to steadfastness in their unionism."

Sellins was "a thorn in the side of the Allegheny Valley coal operators." A marked woman, she could have "set her own price to move out of the valley, but she refused to betray the miners or desert them." The operators openly threatened to "get her." Their opportunity came on August 26, 1919.

A little while before the night shift began at the Allegheny Steel Company at West Natrona, Pennsylvania, Sellins was murdered. She was 47 years old. Also killed was Joseph Starzeleski. Accounts of what led up to the killings are contradictory.

The miners of the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company were on strike. Some say Sellins was killed while she was on picket duty; others say she was shot while inciting a riot. Foster says that "a dozen drunken deputy sheriffs on strike duty, led by a mine official, suddenly rushed the pickets, shooting as they came. Joseph Strzelecki [sic.] fell, mortally wounded. Mrs. Sellins, standing close by, rushed to get some children out of danger. Then she came back to plead with the deputies, who were still clubbing the prostrate Strzelecki, not to kill him."

An account in the September 20, 1919, New Majority describes the scene:

The mine official snatched a club and felled the woman to the ground.
This was not on company ground, but just outside the fence of a friend of Mrs. Sellins.
She rose and tried to drag herself toward the gate
[The official] shouted: "Kill that --!
Three shots were fired, each taking effect.
She fell to the ground, and [the official] cried: "Give her another!"

One of the deputies, standing over the motionless and silent body, held his gun down and, without averting his face, fired into the body that did not move.

An auto truck . . . hurried to the scene and the body of the old miner thrown in; then Mrs. Sellins was dragged by the heels to the back of the car. Before she was placed in the truck, a deputy took a cudgel and crushed in her skull before the eyes of the throng of men, women and children, who stood in powerless silence before the armed men. [One of the deputies] picked up the woman's hat, placed it on his head, danced a step, and said to the crowd:

"I'm Mrs. Sellins now."

One witness to the shooting was Stanley F. Rafalko, a seven- year-old boy who was out on an errand for his mother. Sixty years later, he described what he saw. He noticed "three or four uniformed deputies parked in a maroon touring car talking to some local steelworkers." He went into a store, and when he came out, "the coal mine police were chasing the fellows with billy clubs."

Rafalko followed the chase, and when he caught up, Sellins was "scolding" the deputies. Says, Rafalko, "They used abusive language and tried to chase her away." The crowd increased, and Sellins "got more aggressive." Rafalko recalled that someone brought rifles to the deputies. When a deputy rushed forward to kick Sellins, according to Rafalko she ran into his uncle's yard. Three deputies then fired at her. Joseph Starzeleski, a local steelworker who came to see what was happening, also was shot and killed.

According to Rafalko, the deputies dispersed, and he approached Sellins "where she lay in the gateway in her wide- rimmed straw hat." The boy went over to her. He "picked her hat up and looked at her face and saw her false teeth lying in blood." He ran away when he heard a car coming up the hill, but he saw deputies pull Starzeleski into the back of the car. Then, "they grabbed [Sellins] by the back of the neck and threw her into the car." Reportedly, the deputies took the two bodies to their office.

No one was ever punished for the crime. Although ten deputies were charged, no one was ever convicted. Foster claims that many witnesses were hidden away, imprisoned, or intimidated, and the whole matter was hushed up. When the case finally came to trial four years after the killings, the case was thrown out.

A coroner's inquest decided the deputies' actions were justified because "Mrs. Sellins, accompanied by women and children, went outside the home of a family she was visiting to stop a fight between steelworkers and some of the deputies." Historian Meyerhuber is not sure the right deputies were even charged. He says, "It was really a farce."

Senseless as Sellins' death may seem, United Steel Workers local union president Slomkoski believes some good came of it. "Her death was an inspiration to workers. She became a martyr around which they could organize." he said..

In 1920, United Mine Workers of America District 5 members erected a memorial at Sellins' grave in Union Cemetery at Arnold, Pennsylvania.

The inscription read: 
"In Memory of Fannie Sellins and Joe Starzeleski, killed by the enemies of organized labor, near the Allegheny Steel and Coal Company, at West Natrona, Pa."

Area miners, steelworkers, and other union workers have conducted memorial services, labor day celebrations, and other special events at the memorial site over the years since then.

In 1989, 70 years after her death, Sellins' grave was designated a Pennsylvania state historic landmark and an historic marker was erected which read:

"An organizer for the United Mine Workers, Fannie Sellins, was brutally gunned down in Brackenridge on the eve of a nationwide steel strike on August 26, 1919.

"Her devotion to the workers' cause made her an important symbolic figure. Both she and Joseph Starzelski, a miner who also was killed that day, lie buried here in Union Cemetery, where a monument to the pair was erected."

Eulogy at Waldheim Cemetery

Webtrax Admin


November 13, 1887
(Excerpted)

(Delivered by Captain William P. Black, Attorney for the Haymarket defendants, who had been executed on November 11, 1887.)

"I must not keep you long, and yet there is one thing that I specially want to say, because doubtless in this great throng there stand many who misapprehended their position and their views.

"They were called Anarchists. They were painted and presented to the world as men loving violence, riot, and bloodshed for their own sake; as men full of an unextinguishable and causeless hatred against existing order. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"They were men who loved peace, men of gentle instincts, men of gracious tenderness of heart, loved by those who knew them, trusted by those who came to understand the loyalty and purety of their lives.

"And the Anarchy of which they spoke and taught--what was it, but an attempt to answer the question, 'After the revolution what?' They believed--ah! I would that there were no grounds for this belief--that there was that of wrong and hardship in the existing order which pointed to conflict, because they believed that greed and selfishness would not surrender, of their own volition, unto righteousness.

"But their creed had to do with the tomorrow of the possible revolution, and the whole of their thought and their philosophy, as Anarchists, was the establishment of an order of society that should be symbolized in the words, 'Order without force.'

"Is it practicable? I know not. I know it is not practical now; but I know also that through the ages poets, philosophers, and Christians, under the inspiration of love and beneficence, have thought of the day to come when righteousness shall reign in the earth, and when sin and selfishness should come to an end.

"We look forward to that day, we hope for it, and with such a hope in our hearts can we not bring the judgement of charity to bear upon any mistakes of policy for action that may have been made by any of those who, acknowledging the sublime and glorious hope in their hearts, have rushed forward to meet it?

"We are not here this afternoon to weep, we are not here to mourn over our dead. We are here to pay, by our presence and our words, the tribute of our appreciation and the witness of our love. For I love these men. I knew them not until I came to know them in the time of their sore travail and anguish. As months went by, and I found in the lives of these with whom I talked the witness of their love for the people, of their patience, gentleness, and courage, my heart was taken captive in their cause."

Captain William P. Black

Note: An estimated 500,000 Chicago workers lined Milwaukee Ave. on November 13, 1887, as the funeral of the Haymarket Martyrs wound its way along Milwaukee Ave. and on to what was then the Grand Central Railway Station for the trip to German Waldheim Cemetery (now Forest Home Cemetery) in suburban Forest Park. For a most compelling experience, you should visit the Martyrs Monument. The cemetery is on Des Plaines Ave. in Forest Park. (Approximately ten miles west of State St), and just south of I-290, the Eisenhower Expressway. Despite the vandals who have torn off the bronze floral piece from the base, one cannot but be moved by the powerful monument which marks the grave site. Take the left hand fork at the entrance to the cemetery. Look for the magnificent female figure with the fallen hero. The ILHS has guide books and other historical materials which may be ordered by mail. In fact, the ILHS holds the deed to the monument and the burial site, having been presented with the document by Irving S. Abrams, then the sole surviving member of the Pioneer Aid & Support Society, which erected the monument in 1894.

Early Days of Coal Mining in Northern Illinois

Webtrax Admin

An account of issues, events, and personalities associated with coal mining in the latter part of the 19th century to early 20th. Did you know that John L. Lewis worked in the northern fields?

by Richard Joyce

Although prior to the 1860s, some mining was done in the region south of Joliet, Ill., those early mines were primarily small affairs that supplied local needs. The coal mining "boom" in the northern fields of Illinois really dates from 1864. Around the town of Braidwood, a farmer struck coal while drilling a well for water. For the next 50 years, thousands of people came into Will, Grundy, and Kankakee Counties to seek their livelihood in the coal mines.

The coal boom of the late 1860s went hand in hand with the development of an extensive railroad network that allowed coal companies to ship their products cheaply to large markets in the rapidly growing industrial cities. The Braidwood area coal was shipped mostly to Chicago.

Soon after the discovery of the extensive coal fields in the 1860s, large corporations bought huge tracts of land in the area. The most important of these was the Chicago, Wilmington, and Vermillion Coal Company, which was formed in 1866 by rich investors from Boston and Chicago. Mines were sunk by many companies, and towns sprang up around the mines. These "boom towns" exploded in size as miners flocked in from eastern states (especially Pennsylvania) and from Europe. Braidwood once had 8,000 people and was the second largest city in Will County. In the mid-1870s, it was the most important coal town in northern Illinois. The names of towns often reflect their reason for existence--Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond (named after "black diamonds," or coal) , and South Wilmington (named after the coal company that originally owned it).

Life was extremely difficult for the miners and their families. They had many complaints about their occupation. The underground work was dangerous, dirty, and often damp. Miners working in the underground tunnels could not stand straight, ceilings in the tunnels being too low. They picked and shoveled the coal for ten hours a day, loaded it on small cars, and pushed them to an area where mules would pull them to the cage to be hauled to the surface.

Miners breathed stale dusty air, and many developed a breathing ailment known today as "Black Lung." Miners used lumber to prop up the roof where they worked, but often huge rocks would fall, thus trapping, injuring, or killing them. Miners complained that the coal companies did not supply them with adequate rails, cars, lumber, or fresh air. Explosive gas was present in some mines and many miners were injured or killed by blasts. In February, 1883, seventy-four miners were killed in the "Diamond Mine Disaster," when water from melting snow on the surface suddenly poured into the mine, drowning the men working below. It was the worst mining disaster in Illinois history up to that time.

The most common complaint of the miners, however, concerned their pay, and the total control which the companies had over their financial well-being. Most mining towns were "company towns." The coal company owned the land. They built, rented, or sold the houses to their workers. If the miners quit work or went on strike, the company could evict them from the homes. They often forced workers to buy at "company stores," where credit might be more readily available, but prices were higher. Companies sometimes paid in "scrip," which was taken in trade only at the company store. At times, men who refused to buy from the company store were dismissed. Miners were usually paid monthly in the early days, with the company holding two weeks' back pay. Thus, miners who quit often lost two weeks' pay. Miners also had the expense of getting their tools sharpened, and they had to buy oil for their lamps which provided the only light underground.

Miners were paid by the ton, and they often claimed they were cheated by the coal companies. The operators could easily cheat the men by saying that too many rocks and particles of clay had been put in the mine cars. Prior to 1898, the coal was dumped over screens which separated the coal into large and small lumps. Miners were paid for the larger pieces that remained above the screen. The coal companies sold the small chunks too, but these apparently were mined free.

The weather and business conditions in general, also affected the miners' paycheck. Most miners were unemployed during summer months, when the demand for heat decreased. If factories cut back or closed during a depression, even less coal was needed; so again miners were out of work. Annual income was seriously reduced by this seasonal unemployment, which seems to have been the most constant problem for the miners over the years. A committee created by the State Board of Charities investigated the income of miners in northern Illinois in 1889. They found that the average miner made only $379.44 in a year. To add to the above problems, the min ers accused the coal companies of advertising for men in Europe, so as to bring more miners into the area. This created a huge oversupply of workers that increased unemployment and kept wages low.

To correct these abuses, the miners formed unions. A miners' union existed in Braidwood as early as 1872. Serious problems occurred over the years for the union organizers. Since miners were poor and often unemployed, few of them could afford payment of regular dues to support their organization. The various immigrant groups were also a handicap of sorts. The pioneer miners of the 1860s and 1870s were mostly native Americans or immigrants from northern Europe--Irish, English, Scotch, Welsh, German, French, and Belgian. After 1880, however, more and more miners came from southern and eastern Europe--mainly Italians, Bohemians, and Poles. Braidwood once had a school in which lessons were taught in the Bohemian language. The difficulties of organizing men with different languages and customs, who had strong opposing religious and national prejudices were immense; yet the miners banded together to improve their miserable condition. Misery was one thing they all had in common.

In 1890, the United Mine Workers of America was formed. It was created out of the various local unions then existing in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. A number of local miners were active in the formation of the national union. The UMW was the nation's earliest and most successful industrial union, and it was the nation's largest union for several decades following 1900. An industrial union protects those who produce a certain product, regardless of what part they play in producing it--miners, auto workers are examples. A craft union represents workers who have a certain skill or trade--carpenter, electrician, musician. From 1899 to 1908, the UMW president was John Mitchell, who was born in Braidwood on February 4, 1870. He entered the mines as a trapper boy at twelve, and joined a union when he was only fifteen. In 1902, he was called to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt to help mediate a strike of Pennsylvania miners.

The miners used many tactics to achieve their goals. Since they composed the large majority of the populace in some areas, they could elect candidates who were sympathetic to their cause. Several coal miners were elected to the General Assembly in Springfield. These representatives passed laws favored by the miners--laws dealing with safety, company stores, and fairness in pay. Miners then used these laws to sue the coal companies, but they almost always lost since the courts were sympathetic to business interests, not to workers. The laws were thus struck down.

The most successful weapon of the miners was the strike, in which all miners quit work and refused to return until their demands were met. Serious strikes by miners in northern Illinois occurred in these years: 1868, 1874, 1877 (the year of the nine months' strike), 1889, 1894, and 1897 (after which the miners received a raise and the eight-hour day). While on strike, the miners had to rely on their savings (usually very meager, if they had any), their gardens, farm animals, and charity. Some men went to work in other states, others fished, hunted, or worked for area farmers or villages. During long strikes, miners' relief committees went to Chicago, Joliet, Kankakee, and elsewhere to beg for food, shoes, clothing, etc. The suffering was usually terrible, but the miners seldom gave in without supreme sacrifices.

Violence often occurred during the strikes. Miners sometimes tossed garbage into the shafts, and company property often caught fire during the strikes. In refusing to work, the men tried to create a shortage of coal. This would drive up the price, so that the companies could then pay their men more. But to create a coal shortage, the men had to make sure no coal was mined or shipped. Miners thus derailed trains, burned railroad bridges, or unhooked railroad cars. In 1874, 1877, and 1894, the local coal companies called in Pinkerton detectives, sheriffs' deputies, and federal officers to prevent destruction to mines and trains. Local miners at Godley and Carbon Hill were fired upon by the outside forces. In Braidwood in 1889, the state militia conducted a house-to-house search for weapons.

The mine owners retaliated in several ways against the striking miners. A favorite tactic was the "blacklist." Any miner who was suspected of being a union organizer was fired, and his name was passed to other mining companies so that none would hire him. John Mitchell was blacklisted for his actions during the 1894 strike. Another popular method used by the owner s was the "yellow dog" or "ironclad" contract. Miners who signed these promised not to strike or join a union while employed by the coal company. A contract offered to local miners following the 1877 strike says:

He will not stop work, join any "strike," or
combination, for the purpose of obtaining or causing
the company to pay the miners an advance of wages or
pay beyond what is specified in this contract, nor
will he in any way aid, abet, or countenance any
"strike," combination, or scheme, for any purpose
whatever, during the time specified...

The "lockout" was also used. If the men refused to accept a reduction in their wages, or if they struck, the company would try to starve the miners into accepting worse conditions or wages, and often they were successful. In some places, companies got the courts to issue "injunctions," which made it illegal for miners to strike, have meetings, or march. Violators could be sent to jail.

One of the most common methods used to force the miners to return to work was the threat to fire them and bring in "strikebreakers." Strikebreakers, or "scabs," are workers hired by the company to replace those who are striking. The coal companies in the area were expert at using this tactic. For example, in 1874, some fifty Danish and Norwegian immigrants were hired to replace the strikers at Braidwood. In 1877, two to three-hundred blacks from West Virginia were brought into Braidwood. In 1897, the coal companies threatened to bring Chinese miners from Wyoming. At Carbon Hill, the company built a fortified stockade around the mouth of the mine and moved houses inside so that the Chinese could be protected. The issue, however, was settled and the Chinese never arrived.

Coal mining left a heritage in the area. The coal "dumps" dot the landscape. Like the miners' work, they are dark, drab, and dirty. The descendants of miners still live in old mining communities, but many know little of their past history.

A Braidwood miner, born in Bohemia who later moved to Chicago, became the Mayor of Chicago. This man, Anton J. Cermak, was killed in the 1933 assassination attempt on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cermak was seated at Roosevelt's side and received the fatal bullet intended for the President.

From coal towns came important labor leaders, among them John Mitchell and John L. Lewis. Both became presidents of the United Mine Workers of America. Although born in Iowa, Lewis spent several years mining coal in Panama, Illinois.

As head of the nation's most powerful industrial union, Lewis founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1936. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) had refused to undertake an organizing campaign within the mass production industries. In concert with several sympathetic unions, Lewis and the UMWA went ahead with great success despite being expelled from the AFL. However, the two groups merged in 1954, becoming the AFL-CIO as we know it today.


Note: Richard Joyce teaches history at Wilmington High School, Wilmington, Illinois.

Things that a student might want to "look up":
What is the population of Braidwood, Ill. now? Why did the "northern" coal mines close down, and when?
Where was the Diamond Mine, and exactly what happened?
Were there any laws protecting miners that the courts OKd?
What happened with the black workers from West Virginia?
Why would there have been Chinese workers in Wyoming?
If John Mitchell was a "trapper boy," what did that mean?
What else can be learned about child labor in coal mines?
Was Mitchell a "good" president of the UMWA?
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Address to 1894 Convention of American Railway Union

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by Jennie Curtis, President of ARU Local 269, the "Girls" Local Union.

Mr. President and Brothers of the American Railway Union:

We struck at Mr. Pullman because we were without hope. We joined the American Railway Union because it gave us a glimmer of hope. Twenty-thousand souls, men, women, and little ones, have their eyes turned toward this convention today; straining eagerly through dark despondency for a glimmer of the heaven-sent message which you alone can give us on this earth.

Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic. He owns the houses, the schoolhouse, and the churches of God in the town he gave his once humble name.

And, thus, the merry war -- the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears -- goes on; and it will go on, brothers, forever unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out.

And so I say, come along with us, for decent conditions everywhere!