"A balanced look
Colorado miners strike"
[& The Cool Justice Report Provides
Links To Other Perspectives]
By Michael O'Donnell
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, August 5, 2007
The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West
By Scott Martelle
RUTGERS UNIVERSITY PRESS; 266 PAGES; $25.95
The photograph shows two straight lines of mourners marching over fresh snow, snaking back through the rugged company town toward the mountains. The picture was taken almost 100 years ago, but you can still see the cold: The gray sky moves by hugely overhead, and chimneys blow smoke; the men - they are almost all men - wear hats and slump at the shoulders, and the horses' glistening flanks give off steam. The mourners follow a carriage bearing the body of Louis Tikas, a Greek union organizer who helped lead coal miners on a failed 15-month strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. in 1913 and 1914. Tikas was captured by company thugs during a gunbattle, disarmed, cracked in the skull with a rifle butt and shot in the back three times. The picture calls to mind the famous photos of Catholic marchers at the Belfast funeral of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands 67 years later. They, too, came to show their outrage and, ominously, to display their angry numbers. The Colorado miners had more to avenge than one fallen rabble-rouser. For seven months they had been on strike and in a state of more or less open insurrection. Kicked out of their company homes when they walked off the job, they built a tent colony for themselves and their families. But after months of guerrilla war and shootouts with the Baldwin-Felts detectives hired to protect the mines and the strikebreakers, the miners were rousted from their camp. Company men machine-gunned the tents and then set the place ablaze. Two women and 11 children who had been hiding underneath a tent in a foxhole that doubled as a birthing parlor suffocated as the fire overhead sucked up all the oxygen. Tikas was killed later that day.
The similarities between the Ludlow Massacre and the Northern Ireland troubles don't end with funeral photographs. In both cases, a powerful minority denied basic civil rights to an unruly majority, fearful of giving the masses their lead lest they keep making demands. The majority had reasonable requests - here, an eight-hour workday, pay in dollars rather than scrip, and, critically, union recognition - but when frustrated, turned to violence and soon became intractable. Reprisals followed, and then all-out war. More than 75 people died during the coal strike in Colorado (more than half of them company guards), making it one of the most violent episodes in American labor history.
Too frequently, events surrounding the Ludlow Massacre have been the subject of one-dimensional folklore rather than serious analysis. Howard Zinn, for instance, wrote admiringly of "the undeterred spirit of rebellion among working people" who rose up against their oppressors and fought hard against the company. To Scott Martelle, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the miners seemed anything but valiant as they mobbed in their hundreds around a strikebreaker's wife, throwing rocks and screaming imprecations. Or when they assassinated company men at point-blank range. And as for their treatment of those who crossed the picket line, forget about eggs lobbed against train windows: In Ludlow, a scab deserved nothing less than a slug, and he frequently got one.