Today in Labor History – April 20th

Ludlow, Colorado
Ludlow, Colorado

10,000 demonstrators celebrated textile workers’ win of a 10-percent pay hike and grievance committees after a one-month strike in Lowell, Massachusetts. – 1912

The Ludlow Massacre occurred in Colorado. National Guards opened fire on a mining camp during a strike in Ludlow, Colorado, killing five miners, two women, and twelve children. By the end of the strike, more than 75 people had been killed. The strike involved 10,000 members of the united Mine Workers of America (UMW), 1,200 of whom had been living in the Ludlow tent colony. Many of the “Guards” were actually goons and vigilantes hired by the Ludlow Mine Field owner, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who were temporarily sworn into the State Militia for the occasion. During the assault, they opened fire on strikers and their families with machine guns and set fire to the camp.
Mining was (and still is) a dangerous job. At the time, Colorado miners were dying on the job at a rate of more than 7 deaths per 1,000 employees. The working conditions were not only unsafe, but terribly unfair, too. Workers were paid by the ton for coal that they extracted, but were unpaid for so-called “dead work” like shoring up unstable roofs and tunnels. This system encouraged miners to risk their lives by ignoring safety precautions and preparations so that they would have more time to extract and deliver coal. Miners also lived in “company towns” where the boss not only owned their housing and the stores that supplied their food and clothing, but charged inflated prices for these services. Furthermore, the workers were paid in “scrip”, a currency that was valid only in the company towns. So even if workers had a way to get to another store, they had no money to purchase anything. Therefore, much of what the miners earned went back into the pockets of their bosses. – 1914

United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther was shot and seriously wounded by would-be assassins. He survived and ultimately died in a plane crash in 1970. Reuther also survived an attempted kidnapping in April, 1938, while his brother Victor was shot and nearly killed by police in 1949. The UAW headquarters was also bombed in 1949. Both Walter and Victor were again nearly killed in a small private plane near Dulles Airport. Despite this history of attempts on his life, virtually no media addressed the possibility that his actual death may have been an assassination. – 1948

The National Association of Post Office Mail Handlers, Watchmen, Messengers & Group Leaders merged with Laborers. – 1968

United Auto Workers members ended a successful 172 day strike against International Harvester, protesting management demands for new work rules and mandatory overtime provisions. – 1980

Eleven workers were killed and17 injured when BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. Lax, profit-focused procedures “that saved … significant time and money” for BP and other companies were found to blame. An estimated 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf before the well was capped after 85 days. – 2010

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