‘The Copper Miners’ Strike’ by Edward J.P. McGurty from International Socialist Review. Vol. 14 No. 3. September, 1912.

‘The first day of the strike.’
‘The Copper Miners’ Strike’ by Edward J.P. McGurty from International Socialist Review. Vol. 14 No. 3. September, 1912.

THE territory known as the “Copper Country” of Michigan is a peaked peninsula lying to the north of the Upper Peninsula. It is washed on three sides by the waters of Lake Superior, embracing the counties of Keweenaw, Houghton and Ontonagon.

The country is rich in copper and has one of the deepest incline shafts in the world, the Calumet & Hecla No. 7, at Calumet, which goes down about 8,000 feet. The Calumet & Hecla Company, with its subsidiaries, owns and controls practically all the property up here. For the past thirty years there has been no labor trouble here of any consequence. In that time the C. & H. has paid out $125,000,000 in dividends on an original capitalization of $1,200,000. The employes, many of them Cornish miners, have not revolted for years. They have submitted to every injustice and to tremendous exploitation.

For a number of years it was impossible for the Western Federation to make any headway in the Upper Peninsula. Attempts at organization have been met by the sacking and firing of men. Little could be accomplished. Gradually the Federation formed organizations at various points along the range. The Finns were very zealous in keeping activity alive. This last year especial efforts have been made to organize the men of the various nationalities. Those working in the mines are Cornish, Finnish, Croatian, Italian and Austrian. Up to May first, about 7,000 men were taken into the union.

The companies have worked a pseudo-contract system and cheated the men outright. They have paid low wages, many of the men getting as low as a $1.00 a day and some even less. The shifts have been long, running as high as twelve and thirteen hours. Last year the companies installed what is known as a “one-man” drill which is a man-killer.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the copper zone. On the night of July 22, men went from one end of the range to the other, on foot and in rigs rousing the miners and making known the strike order. The next day there were 15,000 mine-workers who had laid down their tools. Smelter-men, surface-men, under-ground-men, all were out and the copper mines were tied up as tight as a drum. Then the men who had not already joined the union began to make their way to the offices and in a few days 90 per cent of the miners were organized.

Directly the men went out the sheriff of Houghton county deputized about 500 men and sent them about to create trouble. They provoked the strikers to the breaking point and there were 500 deputies without stars or guns in a short time. There were also a few of them went to the hospitals.

The papers here, under the control of the companies, have, as usual, lied about the strike, slandered the strikers, burned the “locations” up in their columns; killed law-officers, etc. The second day of the strike the sheriff acting under orders from McNaughton, $85,000-a-year- manager of the Calumet & Hecla, requested troops from Governor Ferris. Without any investigation of the situation Ferris ordered the entire state militia dispatched here. Protest after protest has been made by the people here, because the presence of the troops is for the purpose of creating trouble. But Ferris stalwartly keeps them here.

The commander of the troops is a real, dyed-in-the-wool conservative. He says that the refusal of the union men to work the pumps and keep water from flowing into the mines amounts to the DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY. Even in times of industrial war, the mine-owners are accustomed to meek wage slaves that pump the water out of the mines.

‘Red Jackect Union Headquarters, Calumet.’

The troops have ridden up the streets of Calumet and Red Jacket at night on horse-back and have ruthlessly clubbed innocent men and women conversing on the side-walks. They knocked down an old man of 70, and threw a baby out of a buggy onto the pavement. They have shot at strikers all over the range when the strikers were doing picket duty.

One of the worst features of the situation is the importation of Waddel and his gunmen and thugs from New York. Two hundred and fifty of them have been scattered along the range. They are being deputized by the sheriff and are arresting men on sight who are known to be strikers. They are continually picking fights and quarrels. The men have decided that they will not put up bail but will fill the jails of Houghton county to the tune of 15,000 if need be. Such a spirit of fighting solidarity cannot fail.

Ferris asked for a conference of the Western Federation and the mine companies, but the companies refused to attend, maintaining that they would have nothing to do with the Federation. They make the usual spiel that the strike is the result of labor agitators.

The sheriff of Keweenaw county was forced to ask for troops by the companies. He has made an affidavit to the effect that he was forced to sign the telegram asking for troops. He has requested Ferris to withdraw troops from his county, but the governor has absolutely refused to do so. The thugs imported here burned down a bankrupt store at Centennial and the papers put the blame on the strikers. Every effort is being made to plant dynamite and wild rumors are the order of the day. The troops arrested some strikers at Ahmeek and put dynamite into their pockets. Dynamite was “found” in Guy Miller’s grips at a Houghton hotel.

So far they have been unable to intimidate the miners. The men are standing firmly. Parades are held every day along the 28 miles which comprise the range. Meetings of from three to six thousand are held every day in Calumet, Hancock, South Range and Mass City. There is no sign of weakening on the part of the men. They are determined upon a victory. They will refuse to submit to the slavery of the Copper Kings any longer. Thirty years of it has been enough.

The principal bone of contention at present is the recognition of the union.

‘Scene at Hancock, Michigan.’

The men have made up their minds on this point. The mine-owners have also apparently done so. The struggle is on in earnest. The miners are up against tremendous odds. They have absolute solidarity in their ranks, however, and that means a great deal. They are going to win! The copper barons are already desperate!

August 5th. The enclosed affidavit was sent to Ferris on the 29th of July and Ferris has absolutely refused to take the troops from this county. They are still in Keweenaw county at this writing.

“Hon. W.N. Ferris, Governor, Lansing, Michigan.

“I, John H. Hefting, sheriff of Keweenaw county, Michigan, hereby certify, that I was requested and urged by certain mining officials to call troops, and I refused as I did not see any necessity, inasmuch as there had been perfect peace and order and not a single infraction of the law committed since the strike commenced. The said mining officials urged me to get your permission to call upon General Abbey for troops, in case I needed them and not otherwise. My intention was not to call troops into this county. On July 29, 1913, several troops appeared at the boundary line, and I protested against troops being brought into this county as conditions did not require it. Whereupon one of the officers of the army stated to me that if I did not permit the troops to enter Keweenaw county at that time, that no matter how bad conditions became even though the location would burn down, they would not give any assistance thereafter. The telegram was made out by the attorney for the company and my attention was called to sign it. I requested them to give me time  to consider the case at least one day, but their answer was that I must decide at once.

“Therefore I request you to withdraw all troops from this county. Respectfully yours,

“JOHN HEPTING, Keweenaw County Sheriff.

“Subscribed and sworn to before me this day, the 29th of July, 1913. My commission expires March 4, 1917. J.A. HAMILTON, Notary Public.”

‘Miners’ ‘homes.”

The newspapers here carried on a three-day campaign to form a “back-to-work” movement and yesterday got one of the company tools to act as chairman, surrounded on the platform by shift and trammer bosses, at a meeting called by the Calumet & Hecla Co., to appoint a committee from the workers to meet with the bosses, and as the chairman put it, find out on what terms the C. & H. would allow its employes to go back to work. The miners saw through the game immediately and refused to “fall?” for the game. They started the cry of “scab” and left the hall for union headquarters.

Mother Jones arrived today and was met at the depot by the strikers. They stood bare-headed in two lines two miles long, while she went through to the union hall. She refused to ride in an automobile which had been brought for her. Ten thousand strikers will pack the Palestra and neighboring halls tomorrow to hear her. She will then go over the range, addressing meetings in the various “locations.”

The men are standing solidly. No greater demonstration of the “mass strike” has been seen in this part of the country. The Finns have made arrangements to send the women and children cut from the strike zone to the iron country of Michigan and Minnesota. They have received replies from Socialist locals and unions that they can take care of them. This exodus will probably be under way within a week if the Copper Barons do not relinquish their position.

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 full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v14n03-sep-1913-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf

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