William D. Haywood


The Battle of Butte

(October 1914)


Source: From International Socialist Review, Vol. 15 No. 4, October 1914, pp. 223–226.
Transcription: Matthew Siegfried.
HTML mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists Internet Archive (2019).
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


SPEAKING of the situation in Butte, Montana, continual reference is made to the “new union.” It isn’t exactly a new union. It is the same old membership, the same old militant western spirit, but it has put on a brand-new suit of digging clothes. The old outfit was too rotten to hold another patch so they chucked it from hat to boots over the dump.

Togged out with a new name, Butte Mine Workers’ Union has enrolled 8,500 mine workers under its “candle stick.” This is about double the number of members the W.F.M. had when the fuse was spit, and the labor fakers say this is disruption – with dampened eye they deplore the idea that the Gibraltar of Unionism has been rent asunder. This hypocritical plaint is answered by the magnificent solidarity of the new union, which is bigger, better and stronger than “Number Wan” ever was in her palmiest day, even when Charley O’Brien was the bulldog of the treasury.

These splendid results have not been achieved without energetic effort on the part of mine workers. They have been working diligently to clean up, ever since the big noise on the 23rd of last June. Nearly 9,000 members. Just think of it! Nine thousand miners now determined to improve their working and living conditions.

Direct Action was employed as no other means could have been used to rid themselves of the incubus, the boss-controlled union – that had fastened itself upon them and was sapping their life blood. Direct action was used in building up the membership of the new union. But let the Socialist mayor tell the story. It is part of a censored article intended for publication in The Butte Socialist. It was cut out by the military authorities, who are conducting the Battle of Butte. This clipping shows that Mayor Duncan has a commendable appreciation of direct action notwithstanding his tirades against the I.W.W.

“On Thursday, August 27th, the Mine Committee, attended by numerous followers, visited the Anaconda Mine, one of the largest and richest producers, segregated thirty-seven of the men waiting to be lowered, brought them into the city, required that they destroy their W.F. of M. cards and join the new union. All but three of these complied with these demands, stating it had been their intention to do so before but they had neglected it. None of them was beaten up or hurt in any way. In fact, the sheriff and several deputies who were on the scene saw no occasion to make arrests. This method was one which has been common in Butte. In fact, on this occasion gentler methods and less abuse were used than has been the case in former times when the old organization was in power. The only other difference was that the large number of followers that were present, because of a partial shutdown of the mines, made the occasion more dramatic than has been customary.

“The other three men, who were recognized as company stool pigeons and gunmen, were not allowed to join the new union, but were escorted outside the city and told to ‘beat it’ and never dare to return to Butte. They were not personally injured in the least, and no fighting, or disorder, or even loud talking took place. This deportation, also, is a practice which has frequently been followed by organized labor in Butte to rid the city of spies and other vermin injurious to the working class. Incidentally, it may be said that these men afterwards returned to the city but were unmolested. They have been sufficiently disciplined.”

Immediately following this formal lesson in direct action, the membership of Butte Mine Workers’ Union increased over two thousand.

Ten days previous to the occurrence just reported, the new union held a meeting and proceeded to do some legislating on their own initiative. No lawyers, no politicians, no preachers were among this body of law makers. None were present except men who work in and around the mines. Men who knew the details of conditions which came up for discussion. Earnest men who debated the questions seriously. To them better conditions meant longer life or quicker death. They were grappling with the White Plague, death dealing gases and dust, prevention of disease and death. Facts regarding the condition of the mines in Butte were exposed before the United States Industrial Relations Commission. “Kaiser” Kelly of the Amalgamated Company said he would make the necessary improvements in the mines if it would not increase the working expenses.

The lawyers, preachers and politicians dreamed of a legislature that would make it compulsory for the mining companies of Butte to install equipment for the protection of the health, life and limb of the under-ground worker. But the men of the mines know that the great wealthy and influential corporations control the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government of Montana.

There is just one body where the tentacles of the octopus had not reached its slimy coils. It was the Butte Mine Workers’ Union. There the miners met in council and adopted the following rules of action, which were posted in the mines of Butte. Who will gainsay the effectiveness of Direct Action!


“Pursuant to an action taken at a regular meeting of the Butte Mine Workers’ Union, August 17, 1914, wherein your Executive Committee was empowered to wait upon the different heads of the mining companies and lay before them the matter of abolishing the system of blasting at dinner hour, and the dampening and laying of the dust, the ventilating of blind workings and hot boxes by means of fans.

“This is to notify you, that your union has made arrangements with the companies where by these conditions will be corrected at the earliest possible moment. And you are hereby notified that after this date there will be no more blasting at dinner hour or during the shift, and any infraction of this order must be promptly reported to the union. A water system will be installed as quickly as possible for dampening the rock before pulling in the chute and the workings where needed, and fans in stalled where much needed. You are re quested to report to the union any places occasions. which you consider wholly unfit to work in, and the union will see to it that such condition is corrected. You are further notified that wherever water is now available to be sure, in interest of your own health as well as that of the rest of your fellow workers, to use it. Careless or indifferent workers failing to do so should be promptly reported to the union, or your grievance committee on the job. The workers are admonished in the interest of health, sanitation and common decency to use toilet tanks wherever provided, and where there are NONE REPORT THAT FACT IMMEDIATELY TO THE UNION.

“In the case of careless and indifferent workers evacuating in the gobs or around the workings, prefer charges against him in the union, or use direct action. Do not throw foodstuffs around levels, or in stopes or workings, as decaying food in amine is a dangerous source of disease infection, and careless workers doing so should be promptly reported to the grievance committee or your union. Report to your grievance committee on the job any grievance which may arise and in case you are unable to settle it FAIL NOT to bring it before your union. Treat the boss mine upon that reciprocal basis and relation upon which should most justly rest the traffic between individuals of all mankind, and upon no other. Treat him as every man WHO IS AMAN should treat every other man. Stand up in full dignity of real manhood and do not under any circumstances tolerate in the future as in the past from any boss, any bulldozing, browbeating, bamboozling, or abuse of any kind, and if you receive any such treatment, do not be slow in letting it be known to the grievance committee or the union. If you feel you have been unjustly discharged without warrant or sufficient causes do not be slow in letting it be known. And let us all work, pull and co-operate to build a union, for, by and in the interest of all workers. (Signed) GEO. R. TOMPKINS, JOS. SHANNON, MIKE SULLIVAN, WM. STODDARD, Executive Committee.”

When Vice President Kelly and the other mining officials, managers, supes, bosses big and little, read this notice, though it was agreed to by some, arrangements were made for a special session on the 6th floor of the Big Ship (Company Store). The subject of discussion was the New Union, and how it could be wiped out. The Rockefeller interests had massacred labor on previous It could be done again. But first they must have the militia and martial law must be declared. Some excuse must be given justifying the governor in sending troops. Destruction of company property, that’s it. Any governor can get under the cover of protecting private property and maintaining law and order for a robber gang if the thieves are big enough. Everything was quiet in Butte and not five cents’ worth of company property had been destroyed, but plans had been made to this end. It is said that a circular was set up and locked in the forms in the office of the company paper offering a reward of $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons guilty of dynamiting the office of the Parrot Mine before the explosion occurred. The door of the rustling card office was blown off its hinges.

The Butte Miner, a company paper, began to scream blue and bloody murder! Soldiers’ Help! Miners threaten! Quick militia!

The governor acted more promptly than when the president of the Western Federation asked him for “protection.” He sent the troops as soon as they could be mobilized.

After the declaration of martial law, Provost Marshal Conley, acting under the major’s orders, invaded without warrant, the office of the Butte Mine Workers’ Union. There the officials began an unlawful search, were guilty of unlawful seizure and committed unlawful arrests. Joseph Shannon, a member of the Executive Committee, was arrested on a trumped-up charge, and is being held incommunicado. Shannon is an old-time resident of Butte, who has for years worked in its mines. He has raised a large family there and has thousands of friends among the miners of the west. His chief offense is being a member of the I.W. W. and being tire less in expounding and working for the principles of industrial unionism. A search was made for Mucki McDonald, president of the union, and Joe Bradley, the vice president, who was also an I.W.W. Ed Ross, another member, was placed under arrest, with James Chaplin. For these men the writ of habeas corpus was denied. Then the officers, backed by the militia, attacked the fortifications of the I.W.W. Propaganda League. Here seven more members were arrested. Next day they were tried by the summary drum head court. Three were released while four were convicted, sentenced to fine and imprisonment but given the privilege of leaving the camp within twelve hours. A few minor cases have been tried by the military court, but its chief function is that of a deporting bureau. Every day men are being dragged before the kangaroo judge and expelled from the camp.

The bravery of the uniformed protectors of law and order has been shown on several occasions. In one instance, after a long siege, they arrested a barber, who had refused to cut the hair of a private militiaman. Major Roote, the kangaroo judge, with great dignity, delivered the following sentence:

“The Court finds you guilty of insulting the governor of the state, the uniform of a national guard, the uniform of the United States and the flag, and directs that the captain of the guard hand you over to the provost marshal to be confined in a military prison in Silver Bow County for a period of sixty days.”

“I would like to have a few hours to arrange my business affairs,” said the prisoner.

“The guard is directed to take you to prison at once, and to keep you there for the full period of sixty days,” replied Major Roote. “If you have any business affairs to arrange, send for some of your friends who are opposed to the National Guard and whom you were afraid of losing if you cut the hair of one of its members.”

This ridiculous story reminds me of an incident that occurred during the great Lawrence strike. A crowd of Italian women and girls had captured an officious policeman. They took his gun, club and star and were in the act of removing his pants, intending to throw him over the bridge into the river when the cavalry charged the women and rescued the captive. Many of the women were hauled into court where Judge Mahoney found the women guilty and sentenced them to a term in jail, after giving them a lecture in an impressive voice, explaining that the body of a policeman was sacred.

Aside from the humorous incidents that occur, it is a grave matter for martial law to exist in any community. When the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended, when the right of free speech, free press and free assemblage is denied, it tries the patience of the best of men. The Mine Workers met this grievous situation with this address:

“To the members of the Butte Mine Workers’ Union:

“We, your executive committee, ask the Butte Mine Workers, at this critical moment to use your best judgment and caution for maintaining peace and order. “Enemies of organized labor at this time in Butte, same as elsewhere, might take advantage of our acute situation and perpetrate violent acts for the purpose of implicating innocent people, with the martial law enforced upon us, and should this occur, we ask every man to refrain from all violence, as we trust that the deep moral sense or justice in this community and throughout the state will eventually clear the situation.

“We have up till the present established the fact that we are industrious and peace-loving men, with a view to promoting highest ideals of human society, maintaining our homes and educating our children.

“With this in view, we are all united. Remain true for our great cause and show the world that we stand for the highest order of mankind. JOHN A. NIVA, GEORGE TOMPKINS, JOE SHANNON, MIKE SULLIVAN WILLIAM STODDARD, Executive Committee.”

With their gunmen and their state troops entrenched, with their governor ready to call upon their president for their regular soldiers if they deem it necessary, the mining companies began to snarl and growl, showing their fangs and uncovering their claws.

A statement signed by many of the companies, pay a splendid tribute to the Butte Mine Workers’ Union as follows:

“The attitude of the Mine Workers’ organization toward the employer, as expressed in their published notices and in the constitution adopted by it, put that organization beyond the possibility of being recognized or dealt with in any way, and so far as that organization is concerned, the undersigned companies will not now, nor at any time in the future, recognize its jurisdiction or permit it to interfere in any way with operations conducted by any of them.”

To which the miners reply in a lengthy statement of which these are the salient points:

“The present situation in Butte has been brought about by the Amalgamated Copper Company in its efforts to accomplish the following results:

“1. It is the opening gun in their campaign against the Workmen’s Compensation bill. They have taken this means of trying to turn the citizens of Montana against the Butte miners by endeavoring to demonstrate that they are an undesirable element.

“2. They wish to destroy the present Butte Mine Workers’ Union which has approximately 99 per cent of the miners working in this camp enrolled voluntarily.

“3. To draw a red herring across the trail during the coming election in the hopes that they will have complete control of the political situation in the state and in Silver Bow County. This can only be accomplished by the deportation of miners from this camp, as the time has passed in Butte, regardless of what force might be used, when this company can any longer control us in a political way, or when we are going to permit them to dominate our union affairs.”

Thus the lines are clearly drawn, the doctrine of the identity of interest between capital and labor is eradicated in Butte

The battle is between the copper barons and their idle, useless stockholders and the miners and their wives and babies.

The miners know that they are in bad ground. Clear heads, calm judgment and patience are necessary now. They are making headway slowly, driving both back and side lagging, with breast boards tight, there will be no run, and when this bit of dangerous ground is well timbered up, the pay streak, with a good gouge, is just ahead.

Last updated on 10 June 2022