The Western Federation of Miners: A Brief Introduction
In May of 1893 miners and union organizers from Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and Utah formed the Western Federation of Miners to use the collective power of organized labor to raise working conditions and wages. The WFM convened in Butte City Montana to deliberate on a constitution, and the statement of principles within the preamble declared that “Since there is scarcely any fact better known than that civilization has for centuries progressed in proportion to the production and utilization of the metals, precious and 'base, and most of the comforts enjoyed by the great majority of mankind are due to this progress, the men engaged in the hazardous and unhealthy occupation of mining should receive a fair compensation for their labor, and such protection from the law as will remove needless risk to life and health ; we therefore deem it necessary to organize the Western Federation of Miners of America for the purpose of securing by education and organization, and wise legislation, a just compensation for our labor and the right to use our earnings free from dictation by any person whatsoever.”
The W.F.M. quickly gained a reputation in the Rocky Mountain States for radical ideas and militancy, setting them apart from the more conservative “craft unionism” of the American Federation of Labor, which organized workers by trade rather than by industry, decreasing labor’s bargaining power. On February 1 of the following year, gold mine owners at Cripple Creek, Colorado, raised the workday from eight to ten hours with no compensation. Workers quickly organized with the W.F.M. and called a mass strike for the reinstatement of the previous workday. The mine owners illegally raised a private army to ensure the safe employment of strikebreakers. This led to gunfights between strikers and the new deputy army, which forced the governor to dispatch the State Militia to settle the dispute and disband the mine owner’s army. Under the protection of the Militia, the miners met with the owners and the resulting settlements met all the miner’s demands.
|Cripple Creek militia rounded up by National Guard.|
Jameson, Elizabeth. All That Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek. University of Illinois Press, 1998.