The Legacy of the Bunker Hill Mine

Miners took possession of a number of mines, including Bunker Hill. Over 1,500 Federal and state troops were brought in on the side of the mine owners on July 14th. Hundreds of miners were imprisoned in bull pens without formal charges or trials. This allowed the mines to reopen with scab miners.

Though the mine owners had their scabs and an overwhelming armed force, they lacked one thing -- real miners. The scabs were nothing more than incompetent class traitors, and in time they drifted away from the hard work in the mines. The owners were then forced to bring back the union miners and the union was re-established in all the mines.

The Coeur d'Alene district struggle, along with other struggles of western miners, showed the need for stronger organization. At a convention in Butte of independent miners' unions a new federation was created on May 15, 1892. It was named the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). The WFM fought a number of bitter miners strikes in the next few years, including one in the Coeur d'Alene District in 1899.

This strike turned out to be as bloody as the last one. There was an intense reign of terror against the miners and their families. Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, who had been elected with WFM support the year before, called in troops to put down the strike. Once again hundreds of miners were placed in bullpens, some for over a year. Several miners were sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. Out of anger several hundred union miners seized a train in the town of Burke, loaded it with dynamite, and aimed it at the Bunker Hill mill and remodeled its decor into a smoldering scrap heap of twisted metal and splintered wood.

A few years later, in 1905, Steunenberg was killed by a bomb. A petty criminal named Harry Orchard, who had been a paid spy for the Mine Owners' Association, confessed to the killing. Though it later came out that he had his own economic reasons for the bombing, he said he was hired by three WFM leaders -- Big Bill Haywood, George Pettibone, and Charles Moyer. All three were illegally kidnaped to Idaho. Haywood was the first to go on trial. After a very dramatic trial he was found not guilty. Later Pettibone was acquitted and then the charges were dropped against Moyer.

It did not take the WFM long to realize that they needed to be a part of a labor federation beyond their industry, so they joined the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1896. The AFL turned out not to be what they were looking for, and they withdrew from it the following year. The AFL was biased against any worker who was not what they viewed as a "skilled" worker. Their views on workers and their trade union structure was based on the old craft guild system which divided workers on the job and throughout industry. Also, the AFL lacked worker solidarity and gave the WFM no support in their strikes. What the WFM wanted was a federation of industrial unions, and the year after discarding the AFL as a waste of time, they created the Western Labor Union. Seeing that their organization had to extend further than just the west, they changed its name in 1902 to the American Labor Union.

Still this was not enough -- the WFM and other unions wanted a labor organization that was not just a federation of affiliates, but an industrial organization that would organize the working class to its greatest possible extent, for they had learn that the labor struggle was not a battle with individual bosses, but rather a class conflict between the employing class and the working class.

A small handful of unionists held a meeting in November of 1904 to talk about the direction that the labor movement needed to go. They decided to call a secret conference for January of 1905 of veteran unionists to "discuss ways and means of uniting the working people of America." This conference was attended by representatives from the WFM, ALU, United Metal Workers, the Brewery Workers, United Mine Workers, the International Musical Union, the Bakers Union, the Switchmen's Union and the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance. Out of that meeting they drew up an Industrial Union Manifesto, which called for a new type of labor movement that would unite and organize all working people into an effective organization to do battle with the employing class. With the Manifesto was a call for an Industrial Union Congress to be convened in Chicago on June 27th. At that congress it was decided to create a new revolutionary organization of industrial unions. At first they were only thinking about a national organization, but with the input of some Canadian unionists it was decided that this organization would be international. This new organization became the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The IWW was the logical next step in the struggle of working people. An organization built out of the direct experiences of the working class, with the purpose of doing away with the exploitation of the working class by using the two greatest weapons the working class has. First, the power of production, and second, universal solidarity. And with these two weapons the IWW sought to take industrial control away from the parasites and place it in the hands of those who do the useful work in society, the workers, and to put an end to the age old conflict between the employers and the workers.

These ideas were seen as a danger to not only the employing class, but also to those who sought the power of the working class for their own selfish reasons. The so-called labor politicians that wanted working people to delegate their power to them with the unkept promise that they would act in their interest, and the union "piecard" leaders who feared worker control would mean the loss of their power and fleecing of working people. Both of these types of scoundrels did all they could to try to destroy the IWW. After three years the treacherous piecard Charles Moyer, through underhanded manipulation, was able to withdraw the WFM from the IWW, which they had a major part in creating. Eventually Moyer was expelled from the miners' union for corruption. Though the IWW was able to go on and produce a massive labor struggle, the fact that the IWW did not become what it could have been was a direct result of so-called labor 'leaders' who sold-out the cause of working people for their own personal power and greed. Maybe one day working folks will learn who their true enemies are (all of them) and rebuild the IWW, the hope of such a thing happening is still alive today.

In 1916 the WFM changed its name to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, or the Mine, Mill Workers, as they were called. In the depression years there was considerable growth in the Mine, Mill Workers and in 1936 they were one of the eight founding unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After the second world war, Mine Mill Workers fell victim to the postwar, anti-labor and anti-communist hysteria. Like a number of other unions (including the IWW), they resisted the Taft-Hartly Act. They found themselves labeled subversive by the Subversive Activities Control Board. A number of their leaders were indicted, but they were cleared by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1956. Later, 14 more Mine, Mill Workers were indicted for conspiracy and were finally cleared again by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968. Throughout the '50s and early '60s numerous Mine, Mill members found themselves arrested on state charges, including, in 1959 union vice-president Asbury Howard , who was jailed, beaten and sentenced to the chain gang for the crime of urging Blacks to register to vote in Alabama.

The opportunistic, reactionary piecards in the CIO saw their chance to drive out of the CIO the more radical elements in the post-war madness. On Feb. 15, 1950, the Mine, Mill Workers were expelled from the CIO along with the Fur & Leather Workers Union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. This clearly showed that the ideas of the IWW, of creating a labor organization outside of the conservative, piecard controlled labor organizations was correct. For what use is there in "boring from within" when at any given opportunity the reactionaries will stab you in the back?

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