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The Ludlow Massacre: Restructuring of Labor Union Laws

Info: 2653 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Jun 2021 in Employment

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The Ludlow Massacre: Sacrifice for the Future

The Ludlow Massacre was an attack orchestrated by the Colorado Iron and Oil Company, owned by the Rockefeller family and carried out by the Colorado National Guard on coal mine workers who were on strike. Ludlow was a township in Colorado where mine workers had settled with their families. The attack began on the morning of April 20, 1914 when armed militiamen opened fire into the colony, signifying the start of the massacre. Approximately twenty-five people died during the Ludlow attack, including thirteen women and children.[1] The blood shed that occurred at the Ludlow Massacre ultimately set the stage for the restructure of Labor Union Laws and the significance of labor unions. If not for the terrible events of the Ludlow Massacre, the process of appointing labor experts for creating employee representation plans would not have occurred.

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Key parts of the town were owned by coal companies. Currently, Colorado Fuel and Iron regulated every aspect of their employees’ lives. Groceries stores, doctors’ offices, and even houses all were owned by the companies and they overinflated prices.[2] This put coal miners in a position to where they were over reliant on the coal companies for daily living. The miners were forced to live in company housing. Their paychecks were paid in store credit that could only be used in a Colorado Fuel and Iron owned store.[3]  There was major corporation oppression. The saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” would come into play here as those who complained were cut off from services or even thrown out of town altogether. At the time, Colorado registered large numbers in on the job fatality rates. Labor laws were there in order to protect workers, but there were major flaws.

In 1913, coal miners started voicing their concerns for their rights. Some of their complaints comprised of low pay, long and unregulated hours, and management practices that were corrupt.[4] They directed their complaints through the United Mine Workers of America who were scoffed at and turned down by the corporations. A month later, approximately eight thousand Colorado mine workers went on strike. Their demands were fair and reasonable. They demanded a ten percent pay raise, they wanted Colorado Fuel and Iron to enforce an eight hour working day, they wanted to be able to choose their houses and doctors, they wanted strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws, especially mine safety laws, they wanted the right to use any store of their choosing rather than just the company warehouse, and they wanted the right to live and trade outside company owned town.[5]

When the strike began in September 1913, workers were evicted from their homes. Having practically no money, the families were forced to face a bitterly cold Colorado winter homeless. They made makeshift cities around the mines made up of tents, the largest of those being the one at Ludlow.[6]  In November, Colorado’s state governor called in the National Guard at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s request; the Guard’s wages were paid for by the Rockefeller family.[7] The National Guard helped form militias whose members carried out sporadic raids and shootings in the tent cities. What began as a nonviolent strike, quickly became a blood bath that would hit the nation heavy and fast.

Tension was intensifying – the National Guardsmen were instructed to remove the strikers and their families using any means necessary. On April 20th, four of the guardsmen waved a machine gun at some of the miners who were on strike. The interpretations are unsurprisingly unreliable as to who shot first, and a day-long gunfight began. Later that night, the National Guardsmen set the Ludlow camp on fire. Thirteen people who tried to escape were shot and killed as the camp site burned to the ground, and several people burned to death.[8] Discovered among the debris the next morning was a pit that they had dug out – similar to a cellar, where four women and eleven children had sought to escape the fighting by hiding. All the children and two of the women died.[9] One of the survivors, Mary Petrucci, lost three of her own children in the cellar. Her version of the massacre was tear-jerking. Years later, she remembered, “I came out of the hole. There was light and lots of smoke. I wandered among the ashes until a priest found me. I couldn’t feel anything. I was cold.”[10]

When the news of the attack spread – especially of the deaths in the cellar – the nation’s attention was pulled from the United States’ possible contribution in the Mexican Revolution.[11] In a way to show their support and compassion, workers across the United States went on strike with the remaining miners. The massacre revealed the high cost and consequence of unrestrained and unbridled corporate power, and it awakened the principles of a country that had formerly displayed impassive opposition towards organized labor.

In June, months after federal soldiers had been sent to Colorado to stop the rioting that resulted from the actions of April 20th, Rockefeller released a statement saying, “There was no Ludlow massacre. The engagement started as a desperate fight for life by two small squads of militia…against the entire tent colony, which attacked them with over three hundred men.”[12] He also gave reasoning as to why the deaths in the cellar were caused by poor ventilation and overcrowding, not because of actions taken by “the defenders of law and property, who were in no slightest way responsible for it.” No guardsmen involved in the massacre were ever prosecuted or brought to court.[13]

Despite what Rockefeller argued, going forward, if there was any silver lining from the massacre at Ludlow, it was that brought attention to the need for stricter and better enforced labor laws across the board. From the 1930s to the 1960s, unions were being backed and supported at record highs.[14] Workers who decided to strike against their employers used the motto, “Remember Ludlow!” as encouragement and tribute. The Ludlow Massacre was the reasoning behind the 1935 passing of The Wagner Act.[15] This Act was passed into law and signed by President Roosevelt July 5, 1935. The Wagner Act gave employees the right to form and join unions, and obligated employers to bargain with unions selected by the majority of the employees. This is still used today, most commonly known as the National Labor Relations Act.[16]

How can we take what happened at Ludlow and apply it to the problems in the corporate sector today? We still have workers unions, although they are not as widely utilized. Most commonly they are in industries such as education, the postal service, and manufacturing. Some of the most common problems that happen in the workplace that involve workers-rights in todays society revolve around federal minimum wage, which has not been raised in over ten years.[17] The cost of living continues to rise while the federal minimum wage continues to stay the same. Another one of the biggest complaints in the workforce currently is the need for the revision for The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).[18] Specifically, the United States is one of only three countries worldwide with no national policy guaranteeing paid leave to employed women who give birth. While FMLA does cover the mother (and father) for up to twelve workweeks in a twelve-month period, it is unpaid making it nearly impossibly for most families to make it possible. Once the mother comes back to work, she is also faced with the issue of finding reasonable time and adequate space to nurse or express breast milk for her child. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938,[19] but most often the mother is forced to use her lunch break or use an uncomfortable storage closet instead of given a comfortable and clean space to provide nourishment for her child. Other issues include equal opportunity, pay discrimination, and disabled employee rights.[20]

The events that happened at Ludlow were appalling. Today, there are many Labor Laws, Labor Unions, and numerous policies set in place to ensure that another event like The Ludlow Massacre would never happen again. We have the brave coal miners that stood their ground and stood up to corporate greed for fair wages and safe working conditions to thank.  The men, women, and children who were killed that day did not die in vain.

Bibliography

  • Abbott, Carl John, Stephen J Leonard, and Thomas Jacob Noel. Colorado: A History of the Centenial State. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2013.
  • Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War. Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • Bain News Service. "Close of Battle, Forbes, Colo. Removing dead: Correspondents under truce flag." Library of Congress. 1914. http://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2005015867/ (accessed January 17, 2020).
  • Gitelman, H. M. Legacy of the Ludlow Masacre: A Chapter in American Industrial Relations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.
  • Green, James, and Elizabeth Jameson. "Marking Labor History on the National Landscape: The Restored Ludlow Memorial and its Significance." International Labor and Working Class History 76, no. 1 (2009): 6-25.
  • Jones, Thai. "Why the Bloodiest Labor Battle in US History Matters Today." The Nation. June 29, 2015. https://www.thenation.com/article/why-bloodiest-labor-battle-us-history-matters-today/. (accessed January 21, 2020).
  • Jou, Jody, Katy Kozhimannil, Jean Abraham, Lynn Blewett, and Patricia McGovern. "Paid Maternity Leave in the United States: Associates with Maternal and Infant Health." Maternal and Child Health 22, no. 2 (February 2018): 216-225.
  • Lowry, Sam. "The Ludlow Massacre, 1914." Libcom.org. September 11, 2006. https://libcom.org/history/1914-the-ludlow-massacre. (accessed January 20, 2020).
  • Mauk, Ben. "The Ludlow Massacre Still Matters." The New Yorker. July 16, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-ludlow-massacre-still-matters. (accessed January 20, 2020).
  • Montoya, Fawn-Amber. Making an American Workforce: The Rockefellers and the Legacy of Ludlow. Boulder: Utah State University Press, 2014.
  • National Labor Relations Board. National Labor Relations Board. n.d. https://www.nlrb.gov/how-we-work/national-labor-relations-act (accessed January 21, 2020).
  • Rees, Jonathan H. Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914-1942. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010.
  • U.S. Department of Labor. Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor. n.d. https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/majorlaws (accessed January 22, 2020).

[1] Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War. Harvard University Press, 2010.

[2] Rees, Jonathan H. Representation and Rebellion: The Rockefeller Plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914-1942. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010.

[3] Lowry, Sam. "The Ludlow Massacre, 1914." Libcom.org. September 11, 2006. https://libcom.org/history/1914-the-ludlow-massacre. (accessed January 20, 2020).

[4] Jones, Thai. "Why the Bloodiest Labor Battle in US History Matters Today." The Nation. June 29, 2015. https://www.thenation.com/article/why-bloodiest-labor-battle-us-history-matters-today/. (accessed January 21, 2020).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Abbott, Carl John, Stephen J Leonard, and Thomas Jacob Noel. Colorado: A History of the Centenial State. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2013.

[7] Gitelman, H. M. Legacy of the Ludlow Masacre: A Chapter in American Industrial Relations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bain News Service. "Close of Battle, Forbes, Colo. Removing dead: Correspondents under truce flag." Library of Congress. 1914. http://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2005015867/ (accessed January 17, 2020).

[10] Mauk, Ben. "The Ludlow Massacre Still Matters." The New Yorker. July 16, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-ludlow-massacre-still-matters. (accessed January 20, 2020).

[11] Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War. Harvard University Press, 2010.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Green, James, and Elizabeth Jameson. "Marking Labor History on the National Landscape: The Restored Ludlow Memorial and its Significance." International Labor and Working Class History 76, no. 1 (2009): 6-25.

[15] Montoya, Fawn-Amber. Making an American Workforce: The Rockefellers and the Legacy of Ludlow. Boulder: Utah State University Press, 2014.

[16] National Labor Relations Board. National Labor Relations Board. n.d. https://www.nlrb.gov/how-we-work/national-labor-relations-act (accessed January 21, 2020).

[17] U.S. Department of Labor. Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor. n.d. https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/majorlaws (accessed January 22, 2020).

[18] Jou, Jody, Katy Kozhimannil, Jean Abraham, Lynn Blewett, and Patricia McGovern. "Paid Maternity Leave in the United States: Associates with Maternal and Infant Health." Maternal and Child Health 22, no. 2 (February 2018): 216-225.

[19] Ibid.

[20] U.S. Department of Labor. Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor. n.d. https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/majorlaws (accessed January 22, 2020).

 

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