The Autobiography of Mother Jones
I went into Arizona in 1913 for the Western Federation of Miners. The miners throughout the copper region were on strike. Great fortunes were being made in the war and the miners demanded their share of it. Ed Grough, a very able organizer, was with me in the field.
The strike of the miners in Arizona was one of the most remarkable strikes in the history of the American labor movement. Its peaceful character, its successful outcome, were due to that most remarkable character, Governor Hunt.
The answer of the copper kings, who for thirty years had held the copper country as despots hold their thrones, their answer to the miners’ demands was to close the mines completely. The operators then left town. They built a tent colony for the faithful scabs who cared for their masters more than for their class.
Then the governor acted, acted in favor of peace. He authorized the sheriff of the copper region to deputize forty striking miners to watch the mine owners’ property, to see that no violence was done to any man. He said that bullpens if built would be for gunmen as well as for any striker who advised violence. He refused to let scabs be brought in under the protection of state troops and hired thugs, as was done in Colorado.
One night during the strike I was addressing a large audience composed of citizens as well as miners.
“I am glad,” said I, “to see so many union men and women tonight. In fact I know that every man and woman here is a loyal member of the union. I refer to the United States, the union of all the states. I ask then, if in union there is strength for our nation, would there not be for labor! What one state could not get alone, what one miner against a powerful corporation could not achieve, can be achieved by the union. What is a good enough principle for an American citizen ought to be good enough for the working man to follow.”
The strike lasted four months, in which time there was complete lack of disorder. Though the striking miners had to go miles up the hills for their firewood, they did not touch a stick of the lumber that lay in piles about the mines, and was the property of the mine owners.
Although the bosses had gone away, leaving their houses practically open, taking nothing, when they returned they found things just as they were left.
A fire broke out in one of the mills due to defective wiring. The strikers formed a bucket brigade and put out the fire. Two were injured The copper-controlled newspapers accused the miners of setting the mill on fire and in the course of their story omitted the fact that strikers saved it. As no violence could be attributed to the strikers, the financial interests went out to “get” Governor Hunt. In spite of their vigorous campaign of lies and fraud, Governor Hunt was chosen in the primaries and in the subsequent election.
But the election was challenged. He was counted out and a present of the governorship handed to the tool of the copper interests, Campbell.
Meanwhile the miners won their strike. They received large increases in wages and a standing grievance committee was recognized which was to act as intermediary between the operators and the miners.
This strike demonstrated the fact that where the great vested interests do not control the state government, the voice of labor makes itself heard. But it is hard for labor to speak above the roar of guns.
I came to know Governor Hunt, a most human and just man. One day I saw the governor stop his machine and ask a poor man with his bundle of blankets over his back, where he was going. The man was a “blanket-stiff,” a wandering worker. His clothes were dusty. His shoes in slithers. He told the governor where he was going.
“Jump in,” said the governor, opening the door of his machine.
The man shook his head, looking at his dusty clothes and shoes.
The governor understood. “Oh, jump in,” he laughed. “I don’t mind outside dirt. It’s the dirt in people’s hearts that counts!”
Governor Hunt never forgot that although he was governor, he was just like other folks.
With Governor Campbell in office, the bosses took heart. The miners in settling their strike with the copper kings had agreed to give up their charter in the Western Federation of Labor in return for a standing grievance committee. Thus they sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. They were without the backing of a powerful national organization. Grievances were disregarded and the men were without the machinery for forcing their consideration. Many of the promises made by the bosses were not executed.
The cost of living during the war went rocket high. Copper stock made men rich over night. But the miner, paying high prices for his food, for his living, was unpatriotic if he called attention to his grievances. He became an “emissary of the Kaiser” if he whispered his injuries. While boys died at the front and the copper miners groaned at the rear, tile copper kings grew richer than the kings against whom the nation fought.
Finally the burning injustice in the hearts of the copper miners leaped into flame. On June 27, 1917, a strike was called in the Copper Queen, one of the richest mines in the world.
“The I. W. W.!” yelled the copper kings whose pockets were bulging. They themselves had driven out the A. F. of L., the conservative organization.
Mining stopped. Stocks suffered a drop. Wall Street yelled “German money!” No one would listen to the story of the theft of the miners’ time without pay under the pressure of war; of his claim that he could not live on his wages-no one.
Guns, revolvers, machine guns came to Bisbee as they did to the front in France. Shoot them back into the mines, said the bosses.
Then on July 12th, 1,086 strikers and their sympathizers were herded at the point of guns into cattle cars in which cattle had recently been and which had not yet been cleaned out; they were herded into these box cars, especially made ready, and taken into the desert. Here they were left without food or water – men, women, children. Heads of families were there. Men who had bought Liberty Bonds that the reign of democracy might be ushered in. Lawyers who had taken a striker’s case in court. Store keepers who sold groceries to strikers’ wives out on the desert, without food or water left to die.
“I. W. W. “ shrieked the press on the front page. On the back page it gave the rise in copper stocks.
Wrapped in the folds of the flag, these kidnapers of the workers were immune. Besides, they were Bisbee’s prominent citizens.
The President sent a commission. Copper was needed for the war. Faithful workers were needed. The commission investigated conditions, investigated the frightful deportations of American citizens. It made a report wholly in favor of labor and the contentions of the workers. It called the deportations from Bisbee outrageous.
But the papers of Arizona would not print the commission’s report although accepted by President Wilson.
The workers had become educated. Elections came. Again Governor Hunt was elected. The legislature had passed the infamous slave bill, “The Work or Fight Law.” By this law a man who struck was automatically sent into the front line trenches. One of the first things Governor. Hunt did was to veto this bill which he characterized as a “very obnoxious form of tyranny.”
Out of labor’s struggle in Arizona came better conditions for the workers, who must everywhere, at all times, under advantage and disadvantage work out their own salvation.