The Autobiography of Mother Jones
After the operators bad refused to accept the President’s terms for peace, the strike went on with its continued bitterness, suffering, patience. Strikers were killed. Gunmen were killed. John R. Lawson, an official of the Union, active in behalf of the rank and file, was arrested and charged with murder. It was an easy matter in the operator-owned state to secure a conviction. I took a train and went to Iowa to see President White.
“President Wilson said that this strike must be eventually settled by public opinion,” said I. “It’s about time we aroused a little. We’ve got to give this crime of convicting an innocent man of murder a little publicity.”
“You’re right, Mother,” said he. “What do you think we ought to do?”
“I want to hold a series of meetings all over the country and get the facts before the American people.”
Our first meeting was in Kansas City. I told the great audience that packed the hall that when their coal glowed red in their fires, it was the blood of the workers, of men who went down into black holes to dig it, of women who suffered and endured, of little children who had but a brief childhood. “You are being warmed and made comfortable with human blood” I said.
In Chicago, Frank P. Walsh, Chairman of the Industrial Commission, addressed the meeting. Garrick Theater was crowded. He told them of the desperate efforts of the operators to break the spirit of the miners by jailing their leaders.
We held meetings in Columbus and Cleveland and finally held a mass meeting in Washington. By this time the public opinion that President Wilson referred to was expressing itself so that the long-eared politicians heard.
Through the efforts of men like Ed Nockels, labor leader of Chicago, and others, John Lawson was released on bonds. Ed Nockels is one of the great men who give their life and talents to the cause of the workers. Not all labor’s leaders are honest. There are men as cruel and brutal as the capitalists in their ranks. There is jealousy. There is ambition. The weak envy the strong.
There was Bolton, secretary of the miners in Trinidad, a cold-blooded man, a jealous, ambitious soul. When Lawson was arrested he said, “lie is just where I want him!”
I was at headquarters in Trinidad one morning when two poor wretches came in and asked him for some coal. Their children were freezing, they said.
Bolton loved power. He loved the power of giving or refusing. This time he refused. A fellow named Ulick, an organizer, was present. I said to him, “Go with these men and see what their condition is. Buy them coal and food if they need it,,’ and I gave him money.
One of the men had walked over the hills with his shoes in tatters. The other had no overcoat and the weather was below zero. Ulick returned and told me the condition of these miners and their families was terrible.
I am not blind to the short comings of our own people, I am not unaware that leaders betray, and sell out, and play false. But this knowledge does not outweigh the fact that my class, the working class, is exploited, driven, fought back with the weapon of starvation, with guns and with venal courts whenever they strike for conditions more human, more civilized for their children, and for their children’s children.
In this matter of arousing public opinion, I traveled as far as Seattle. The Central Trades Union of Seattle arranged a monster mass meeting for me. I told those fine western people the story of the struggle in their sister state. I raised a lot of hell about it and a lot of money, too, and a yell of public opinion that reached across the Rockies.
The miners of British Columbia were on strike. They sent for me to come and address them. I went with J. G. Brown. As I was about to go on the boat, the Canadian Immigration officers asked me where I was going.
“To Victoria,” I told them.
“No you’re not,” said an officer, “you’re going to the strike zone.”
“I might travel a bit,” said I.
“You can’t go,” said he, like he was Cornwallis.
“I don’t have to give reasons,” said he proudly as if the American Revolution had never been fought.
“You’ll have to state your reasons to my uncle,” said I, “and I’ll be crossing before morning.”
“Who is your uncle?”
“Uncle Sam’s my uncle,” said I. “He cleaned hell out of you once and he’ll do it again. You let down those bars. I’m going to Canada.”
“You’ll not put a boot in Canada,” said he. “You’ll find out before night who’s boss on this side the water,” said I.
I returned to Labor Headquarters with Brown and we telegraphed the Emigration Department, the Labor Department and the Secretary of State at Washington. They got in touch with the Canadian Government at Ottawa. That very afternoon I got a telegram from the emigration Department that I might go anywhere I wanted in Canada.
The next morning when I went to get on the boat, the Canadian official with whom I had spoken the day before ran and hid. He had found out who my uncle was!
I addressed meetings in Victoria. Then I went up to the strike zone. A regiment of Canadian Kilties met the train, squeaking on their bagpipes. Down the street came a delegation of miners but they did not wear crocheted petticoats. They wore the badge of the working class-the overalls. I held a tremendous meeting that night and the poor boys who had come up from the subterranean holes of the earth to fight for a few hours of sunlight, took courage. I brought them the sympathy of the Colorado strikers, a sympathy and under-standing that reaches across borders and frontiers.
Men’s hearts are cold. They are indifferent. Not all the coal that is dug warms the world. It remains indifferent to the lives of those who risk their life and health down in the blackness of the earth; who crawl through dark, choking crevices with only a bit of lamp on their caps to light their silent way; whose backs are bent with toil, whose very bones ache, whose happiness is sleep, and whose peace is death.
I know the life of the miner. I have sat with him on culm piles as he ate his lunch from his bucket with grimy hands. I have talked with his wife as she bent over the washtub. I was talking with a miner’s wife one day when we heard a distant thud. She ran to the door of the shack. Men were running and screaming. Other doors flung open. Women rushed out, drying their hands on their aprons.
Whose husband was killed! Whose children were fatherless!
“My God, how many mules have been killed!” was the first exclamation of the superintendent.
Dead men were brought to the surface and laid on the ground. But more men came to take their places. But mules – new mules – had to be bought. They cost the company money. But human life is cheap, far cheaper than are mules.
One hundred and nineteen men were brought out and laid on the ground. The lights in their lamps were out. The light in their eyes was gone. But their death brought about the two-shaft system whereby a man had a chance to escape in case one of the exits filled with gas or burned.
Life comes to the miners out of their deaths, and death out of their lives.
In January of 1915, I was invited to John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s office with several other labor officers. I was glad to go for I wanted to tell him what his hirelings were doing in Colorado. The publicity that had been given the terrible conditions under which his wealth was made had forced him to take some action. The union he would not recognize – never. That was his religion. But he had put forth a plan whereby the workers might elect one representative at each mine to meet with the officials in Denver and present any grievance that might arise.
So with Frank J. Hayes, Vice President of the United Mine Workers, James Lord, and Edward Doyle we went to the Rockefeller offices. He listened to our recital of conditions in Colorado and said nothing.
I told him that his plan for settling industrial disputes would not work. That it was a sham and fraud. That behind the representative of the miner was no organization so that the workers were powerless to enforce any just demand; that their demands were granted and grievances redressed still at the will of the company. That the Rockefeller plan did not give the miners a treasury, so that should they have to strike for justice, they could be starved out in a week. That it gave the workers no voice in the management of the job to which they gave their very lives.
John Rockefeller is a nice young man but when we went away from the office where resides the silent government of thousands upon thousands of people, we went away feeling that he could not possibly understand the aspirations of the working class. He was as alien as is one species from another; as alien as is stone from wheat. I came to New York to raise funds for the miners’ families. Although they had gone back beaten to work, their condition was pitiful. The women and children were in rags and they were hungry. I spoke to a great mass meeting in Cooper Union. I told the people after they had cheered me for ten minutes, that cheering was easy. That the side lines where it was safe, always cheered.
“The miners lost,” I told them, “because they had only the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end, bayonets always win.”
I told them how Lieutenant Howert of Walsenberg had offered me his arm when he escorted me to jail. “Madam,” said he, “will you take my arm?”
“I am not a Madam,” said I. “I am Mother Jones. The Government can’t take my life and you can’t take my arm, but you can take my suitcase.”
I told the audience how I had sent a letter to John Rockefeller, Junior, telling him of conditions in the mines. I had heard he was a good young man and read the Bible, and I thought I’d take a chance. The letter came back with “Refused” written across the envelope.
“Well,” I said, “how could I expect him to listen to an old woman when lie would not listen to the President of the United States through his representative, Senator Foster.”
Five hundred women got up a dinner and asked me to speak. Most of the women were crazy about women suffrage. They thought that Kingdom-come would follow the enfranchisement of women.
“You must stand for free speech in the streets,” I told them.
“How can we,” piped a woman, “when we haven’t a vote?”
“I have never had a vote,” said I, “and I have raised hell all over this country! You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”
Some one meowed, “You’re an anti!”
“I am not an anti to anything which will bring freedom to my class,” said I. “But I am going to be honest with you sincere women who are working for votes for women. The women of Colorado have had the vote for two generations and the working men and women are in slavery. The state is in slavery, vassal to the Colorado Iron and Fuel Company and its subsidiary interests. A man who was present at a meeting of mine owners told me that when the trouble started in the mines, one operator proposed that women be disfranchised because here and there some woman bad raised her voice in behalf of the miners. Another operator jumped to his feet and shouted, ‘For God’s sake! What are you talking about! If it had not been for the women’s vote the miners would have beaten us long ago!’”
Some of the women gasped with horror. One or two left the room. I told the women I did not believe in women’s rights nor in men’s rights but in human rights. “No matter what your fight,” I said, “don’t be ladylike! God Almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies. I have just fought through sixteen months of bitter warfare in Colorado. I have been up against armed mercenaries but this old woman, without a vote, and with nothing but a hatpin has scared them.
“Organized labor should organize its women along industrial lines. Politics is only the servant of industry. The plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.”