What a wonderful article by George Falconer telling the story of the 1913-14 Colorado Coal War, already seething as he writes, though still two months before the Ludlow Massacre exploded an already combusted situation. Talking to miners in jail, going to Socialist meetings, and negotiating with the military, this essay not only gives a ground-eye view of the conflict, but of the character of, and divisions within, the workers movement. Great stuff and a perfect intro into that particular class battle.
The photo above: ‘Striking coal miners and their families pose near Joe Zanetell’s tent during the UMW labor strike against CF & I. at Forbes Camp near Ludlow, Las Animas County, Colorado The people are identified (left to right) as: 1) an unidentified man, 2) Angelo Mosher, behind the boys 3) George Prescar and 4) his brother, 5) an unidentified man in a dark hat, 6) Joseph Zanetell stands in front of the chimney in a light cap, 7) Mrs. Mosher, with a tie and apron, 8) an unidentified man, 9) Irene Micheli (later Dotson), a young girl, 10) Mary Oberosler Micheli holds her baby 11) Charlie Micheli, 12) an unidentified man in a light cap, 13) Clarence Johnson who stands in front of 14) Mrs. Johnson, who wears a striped shawl over her head, and 15) Sarah Johnson.’
‘The Miners War in Colorado’ by George N. Falconer from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 14 No. 8. February, 1914.
AN invitation from the Trinidad Socialist Local enabled us to spend ten days among the miners in the strike zone. The need for working-class Socialist propaganda was demonstrated beyond all peradventure. Meetings were held in Trinidad, Ludlow, Starkville, Augillar -all storm centers during the present strike.
Ludlow is unique in the annals of industrial warfare. Over 500 miners and their families are housed in tents on land leased by the Miners’ Union. Here they sat and drink with an ever watchful eye on their enemy, the armed soldiery, camped a few rods to the right of them. What a sight! Workers on one side; the armed Hessians of capitalism on the other, each watching and fearing the other!
Under Ludlow’s silent, snow-clad plains lies the bones of more than one “thugman” and “plug-ugly,” fit testimony of the truth that he who lives by the gun shall die by the gun. A new chapter in working-class history is being written on Ludlow’s rockbound plain! Ludlow! the tent city of mountain and plain.
A splendid meeting was held in the high tent, and a quantity of anti-military literature distributed. The men were very hungry for something to read.
At Augilar another rousing big meeting was held. A company of soldiers surrounded the hall during the meeting. Company spies were on hand, reporting everything said. They may have learned something!
Preceding the Starkville meeting, an Italian comrade, Amando Pelizzari, union organizer, and I were honored by being arrested as dangerous persons. The guard escorted us to military headquarters-a coal company’s office-and we were examined as follows:
Guard: “Two prisoners, sir.” Captain: “What is the charge?” Guard: “They are agitators, I think, sur.” The guard was a Mick; you could tell it by his brogue and his breath. Captain: “Any weapons?” addressing the prisoners. “Yes, some dynamite,” pulling from our pocket a copy of Kirkpatrick’s “Mental Dynamite.” Just the faintest flicker of a smile crept over the faces of Mike and the Captain. Captain: “Guard! we have not sufficient charges against these men; release them.” Guard: “Yes, sur.” Turning to us: “Prisoners, ye’re released!” Guard salutes, shoulders his musket and marches, proud as a turkeycock. Piff, puff, pizzle! What fools we mortals be when dressed in a little brief authority!
Over 200 miners were waiting in the hall to receive us. What a big warm welcome! There is something. elemental in the man who digs our coal! “Venerable to me is the hard hand-crooked, coarse-wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue, indefeasibly royal as of the scepter of this planet.” His is the face of a man, living, manlike. Over 600 miners made up the meeting in Walsenburg, but as other speakers had already been billed, we merely helped swell the audience. There was no literature for this meeting-something not uncommon at all, pure and simple trade union meetings. All the literature we brought from Trinidad was exhausted at the close of the Augilar meeting, where the men good-naturedly mobbed us in their anxiety to secure a bit of brain stuff.
The Socialist party, state and national, is sadly derelict in its duty in failing to supply competent speakers and working-class literature to the men now battling for a few elemental rights. During a strike the men have leisure; they have time to spare for reading; their minds are in a receptive mood. The union pays each striker $3 per week for victuals, but fails to supply brain food. The job of revolutionizing the brain of the worker is left to the Socialist; but in this instance he, too, is negligent. The Socialists of Denver tried hard to get out a 20,000 edition of their party paper, The Colorado Worker, devoted to the strike exclusively, but owing to a cancellation of 8,000 which were to go to the strike zone only about 13,000 were printed. Someone inside the union didn’t want Socialist papers to be read by the miners. Why this opposition to Socialist work? Here is a partial explanation: Many union officials are against Socialist activity in any shape or form. Strange it may be, but true.
Several officials, members of our Socialist State and National Executive Committees seem to be in tacit agreement with this policy. Socialist propaganda, they say, tends to antagonize “business men” and thus binders a speedier settlement of the strike. Moreover, politics must be kept out of the union. Just so! Democratic, Republican or Progressive politics are permissible, but Socialism as a political factor! It might confuse and bemuddle the situation. Don’t encourage Socialist propaganda-wait until the strike is settled, etc., etc.
“Wherever the labor movement is,” once observed Marx, “there the class struggle is fought,” business or no business.
Unfortunately, many of our leaders, so-called, have not emancipated themselves from the debauching influence of the business man’s creed. Hence their reactionary tendencies. This talk of “No politics in the union” is as stupid as a man trying to escape his own shadow. Frank Bohn, in the December REVIEW states the case exactly:
“In the small town there is no well-defined labor movement. In the large cities there is usually a reactionary labor union machine working hand in glove with this or that capitalist political crowd. When patronage is dispensed the labor politicians are not forgotten. Until the labor unions become revolutionary in character, they must ordinarily be reckoned among the enemies of the Socialist party.” This covers the Colorado situation admirably.
“WATCH YOUR OFFICIALS”-SAID MOTHER JONES.
The average union labor leader takes himself too seriously. “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” And so it will be forever, says the official, who has been raised from the ranks to his present high position. But the privates have their views about that. There is too much officialdom and too little democracy in all of our craft and industrial unions. We heard more than one miner speak of the high-salaried officials and the common tendency in every union to rule from the top down. The rank and file pay all the bills; they justly feel they should do more of the ruling.
A labor convention was called in Denver during December, the object being to devise ways and means of helping the striking miners and the declaring of a general strike. Five hundred delegates were present. Many speeches were delivered. Lots of resolutions passed. The governor was cross examined and grilled by delegates who crowded the state house. Unless he did so and so within five days, petitions for his recall would be circulated. Many other things were said and done; but no one was hurt. General Chase is still doing duty in the strike zone; Governor Ammons rests easy in his official chair; the operators continue to import “scabs” with the kindly assistance of the militia. No general strike has been called. It was never meant to be called; the nature of craft unionism forbade. The “bluff,” however, was carried through amid much shouting, only instead of bluffing the capitalists, which was the intent, the workers were once more bluffed.
THE MILITIA A SCAB AGENCY.
The object in sending the militia to the strike region was, as per the capitalist press, to “maintain peace and order.” The real object, however, is to act as a “scab agency.” The patriotic militiamen have become “scab herders.” Each mining camp is guarded by militiamen. Guns, swords, bayonets are everywhere in evidence. Strike breakers are being imported under military supervision. The soldiers are the servants of the mine owners, paid for by the state.
One day a trainload of strike breakers rolled in from St. Louis. They were quickly transferred to a waiting train which conveyed them to their respective mine camps. Militiamen with unsheathed bayonets pressed the crowd back from the platform, thus preventing any intercourse with the new arrivals.
GENERAL CHASEM, PATRIOT.
Patriot Comrade J .G. Barnhouse, an aged war veteran and I called on General Chase, or, “Chasem,” as nicknamed by the miners. We wished to see Robert Uhlich, militant Socialist and union organizer, held “incommunicado” by orders of the general.”Chasem” is a product of the Peabody regime, and served under the notorious Sherman. Bell of “habeas corpus be damned we’ll give them postmortems instead” fame. Chase is a regular military totem pole, who takes himself seriously. He is a cave man dressed in a little brief authority and khaki. He reminds you of a foolish French king who said: “I am the state. The king is dead.”
King “Chasem,” on learning our mission, arose, and in a Rocky mountain voice exclaimed: “Any man that is against MY government is against ME. Robert U. is a dangerous citizen and doesn’t deserve to live. You cannot see Robert Uhlich.” We wanted to argue the point, but Chasem would none of it.
General Chase, arrogant, foolish soldier that he is, is but the visible expression of a class whose servant he is, the scurviest, meanest, most sordid and contemptible ruling class the world has ever known.
Five days later Uhlich was turned over by the military to the civil authorities on a charge of being an accessory to the killing of a mine guard. He is now penned in the county jail with a dozen other rebels. We called on the prisoners one Sunday afternoon religious service was on. A group of religious zealots closed the meeting with singing:
“Yes, we will gather at the River,
Gather with the saints at the River.”
The boys behind the bars followed with their favorite:
“The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the Bald wins! Up with the law!
For we’re coming to Colorado! We’re coming all the way!
Shouting the Union cry of Freedom!”
‘hese miners prefer union to heaven they will gladly barter salvation in the hereafter for an increase of wages here. They are afraid of no offense to the saints in the calendar, if people here and now are right down busy at making themselves and neighbors a little more saintly. The prisoners were served with parts of the gospel according to Marx, Engel, Bebel and THE SOCIALIST REVIEW.
‘HE STRIKE UP TO DATE.
The strikers are playing the waiting game. They demand recognition of the union; the mine owners refuse absolutely. Forty to fifty per cent of the regular coal output is being mined by scab or non-union labor. It is costing the companies much moneys, but they have dollars to burn, they say. The militia is being financed by the taxpayers to the tune of $5,000 per day. The striking miners are being paid $3 per week per man; coal for heating purposes furnished by the union. How long will the strike last? No one knows. The miners are prepared, if necessary, to stay out a year. The northern miners have been out now nearly three years, costing the union the large sum of $1,022,000. And all this money comes from the workers themselves. It is a case of Peter, the worker, handing over to Paul, the striker, part of his hard-earned wages.
What next? Press reports say the citizens of Routt county are threatening to export every striking miner. Mother Jones has already been deported from Trinidad by orders of General Chase. Official Doyle of the Miners’ Union wires the union at Oak Creek “that if any man attempts to invade the homes of the miners or to molest them in any manner, that they are to shoot to kill. The United Mine Workers will quit paying relief in the state and start buying lead.” Doyle, by the way, is very much opposed to Socialism in the union. He is a Knight of Columbus and a very practical Democratic politician. He does not believe in Socialist ballots, but is not averse to the use of capitalist bullets. However necessary bullets may be-and they are at times necessary when life and home and liberty are threatened-the bullet as a weapon never will free the worker from economic servitude. Industrial and political solidarity will and shall. The antique methods of modern craft unionism are but pop-guns when confronted with the commercial and political batteries of twentieth century capitalism. Which will prove the stronger weapon, finally? Socialist ballots, backed by industrial unionism, or capitalist bullets, backed by organized wealth? Socialism, Mr. Pure and Simple Union Man, may be the longest way round of winning the world for the workers, but coming events shall prove it the shortest way home to Peace, Power and Plenty.
Edinburgh-born George N. Falconer (1863-1947) was a central figure in the history of the Colorado left. A writer and editor, candidate for and leader of the Socialist Party of Colorado, he ran a bookstore in Grand Junction and was, like most of the Colorado S.P., a Red. He wrote extensively on the western class struggle and on debates within the movement. Comrade Falconer was also a member of the I.W.W., and would become a founding member of the Communist Labor Party in 1919 and the Workers (Communist) Party in 1921.
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v14n08-feb-1914-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf