Monday, March 28, 2011

The Ground We Walk On: A History of The Jackson Miners Union (Post 7)

By David Roddy

Synopsis of past posts:

Post 1: “49ers” remove most of the placer gold in the southern mines of California during the last decades of the 1800s, deeper mines to remove gold from quartz beds attract capitalist investment which in turn exploits cheap immigrant labor.

Post 2: Parallel developments across the Western United States lead to miners unionizing to demand wage increases and safer workplaces. In 1893, the Western Federation of Miners unites these unions and grows after a successful strike in Cripple Creek Colorado in 1894.

Post 3: In 1901, Jackson mine owners preemptively threaten to fire any unionized workers as well as anybody that showed sympathies to a rumored union. The WFM becomes militant after a series of violent strikes, advocates socialism and the possibility of armed insurrection against the capitalist class. Local newspapers side with mine owners.

Post 4: On September 6 of 1901, self-proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinates President William McKinley. This triggers a national panic against immigrants, anarchists and leftists. The cacophony around the national red-scare silences any rumors of a Jackson miners union.

Post 5: The Jackson Miners’ Union, No. 115 of the Western Federation of Miners, announces its presence in the fall of 1902, much to the horror of local newspapers. Newly inaugurated President Theodore Roosevelt deals peaceably with striking coal miners in Pennsylvania, giving labor unions a credibility in national media.

Post 6: Jackson Miners Union president Frank O’Connell writes a letter to Amador Dispatch calling for a socialist economy. Both Republican and Democratic newspapers attack the Jackson Miners Union.

Tensions Build On the 28th of November in 1902, the Amador Dispatch quoted an editorial from the San Luis Obispo Breeze titled “Organized Labor the Safeguard of Society.”

A broad view of the labor movement, which recognizes the fact that there is an abundance for all, is the only tenable ground. Keep up the organization, and benefits will come as fast as outside conditions will warrant. The safety of all depends upon the intelligent organization of labor.
"TR teaches the childish coal barons a lesson"
From Wikipedia.
Toleration for labor unions became increasingly fashionable as the United States entered the “Progressive Era.” The treatment of striking anthracite coal miners as equals to their employers by the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt strengthened public sympathy towards the cause of organized labor. The admittedly conservative president of the American Federation of Labor Samuel Gompers went so far as to state in his 1925 autobiography:

Several times I have been asked what in my opinion was the most important single incident in the labor movement in the United States and I have invariably replied: the strike of the anthracite miners in Pennsylvania ... from then on the miners became not merely human machines to produce coal but men and citizens.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"What's Left to Read? A Book Club for Local Radicals, Progressives, & Curious Liberals."


"What's Left to Read" is a book club centered in Amador County that discusses issues and policies usually assigned to the political left. So far we have around 15 members in the reading group, and the number grows every meeting.

We have discussed "Wobblies! A Graphic History of the I.W.W." edited by Paul Buhle and "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn, and are currently reading selections of "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein.

As you may have guessed from the flyers, we are trying to build a multigenerational coalition. We have both retired and high school members, so this has so far been a success. Contact me if you're interested.

Amador Residents Stand with Wisconsin Workers

Dozens of progressives, union members, and concerned citizens lined the rainy Main Street of Sutter Creek, California for two hours in a show of solidarity with public sector workers in the American Midwest.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Ground We Walk On: A History of the Jackson Miner's Union (Post 6)

By David Roddy

Posts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5
Growing Pains
A tempest of controversy followed the formation of the Jackson Miners Union No. 115 in the autumn of 1902. Both the Republican Ledger and Democratic Dispatch met the presence of the Western Federation of Miners—an always socialist and occasionally revolutionary labor union—with hostility and bewilderment. Local business men also felt threatened by the Miners Union, which attempted to alleviate their anxiety in an October 10th letter published in the Amador Dispatch by stating that “The members of this organization are the men who work the mines in this vicinity and their earning make it possible for many of their critics to remain in business.”

Workers at Amador's Zeila gold mine, 1910.
The media, mine superintendents, and businessmen were not the only forces antagonizing the Union. The WFM advocated “industrial unionism,” which organized workers by an entire industry instead of by a single craft or trade. Industrial unions had a strong ideological framework that declared that people could only be truly free when they took control of their work place and broke away from a dependency on wages. This inclusive model made the lowest paid workers essential for a successful organizing drive, as they were the bulk of laborers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Ground We Walk On: A History of The Jackson Miners Union (Post 5)

By David Roddy

Note: Part five of a series. Please see posts 1,2,3 & 4.

Jackson Miners Union, W.F.M. No. 115

On September 5th, 1902, one day away from the first anniversary of the McKinley assassination, the Amador Ledger ran an article descriptively titled “Reported Miners' Union.” The Ledger had adopted the platform of the Republican, which, under McKinley’s presidency, fostered a sympathetic attitude towards big business. Unsurprisingly, the Ledger antagonized the Union even prior to its official inception. The paper stated that:
“Reports have been current in Jackson and throughout the county that an effort is being made to organize a miners' labor union in this county, with headquarters in Jackson. Meetings have been bold in the basement known as the Olympus cafe for three successive nights, for the purpose of launching a now secret society.”

"Ruins of the American Dream" from

Ruins of the American Dream

Take a look at this photographic essay by Megan Cytron of abandoned mines and mining communities across the American West. Nothing from the foothills, but nonetheless shows that the rotting head frames that dot our landscape are part of a once massive national economy. published another photoessay by Cytron titled "Ordinary Folks Change the World" inspired by the life and work of Howard Zinn.