The Legacy of the Bunker Hill Mine

The CIO then handed all Mine, Mill Workers' jurisdiction over to the United Steel Workers. The Steel Workers had been violently raiding Mine, Mill Workers since the moment the resisted Talf-Hartley. Even with all this going on, Mine, Mill Workers was able to pull off some of the largest post-war strikes in the country. But after a while they were worn down by the attacks from every direction on them. On Jan. 16, 1967, the United Steel Workers took over the Mine, Mill Workers, and the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers was no more, except for one local in Sudbury, Canada that refused to change its name. Thus the legacy of the WFM died a very inglorious death. One can only speculate as to what a major difference there would have been to miners and the labor movement, had Moyer not soldout and forced the WFM out of the IWW.

After the brutal repression of the 1899 strike, the Coeur d'Alene District went through a number of years without any unions. This was aided by blacklists and the Idaho state government that issued a proclamation that forced miners to get a permit from the state to work. To get a permit a miner had to renounce membership in any organization (the union) that was involved in the 1899 struggle. Also any miner who was involved in that strike was refused a permit to work. In the '20s and '30s the Mine Mill Workers made slow inroads back into the district. This first important strike came about on August 2, 1937 at the Sunshine mine. With 216 miners picketing the mine some of the other mines (including Bunker Hill) that were still nonunion told their workers to quit work for the day and go to the Sunshine mine and put on a counter demonstration against the strike. Though they all took the day off with pay, only a small handful joined the counter demonstration. The press carried wild tails of violence, a tipped over buses set on fire, burning cars blocking the main highway and many injuries. The fact is that none of this had happened. It was only a campaign by the press to try to turn people against the strikers. The company fired all the strikers and hired scabs to take their place. Since the firing of workers involved in a legal strike was against the law, the fired workers did get back pay after a number of years of court battles, which the other mine owners helped with Sunshines legal expense. The union miners were blackballed and could not get jobs in the other mines.

It was not until 1942 that unionism return to Bunker Hill with a contract with the Mine mill Workers. By 1946 most of the district was again under union contact. But unfortunately the unity of the district was broken by a right wing element. In the contract negotiations of 1947 one of the three locals broke away from the other two and signed their own contract, with was for less than the master contract signed in time by the other two locals. When the 1949 negotiations were taking place the same local broke away again and signed as contract that was the same as before with no changes. The difference this time was that the other locals went out on strike. The right wing element had also infiltrated one of the other locals and forced an early settlement at Bunker Hill. This break in unity forced a settlement for far less than was being struggled for in the other mines. There was another strike in 1955 with about the same disunity and a settlement for less than they could have gotten. After this the locals went their separate ways and their were no more district wide Mine Mill strikes.

In the 1959 into 1960 negotiations at Bunker Hill the company took a hard line against the union and broke off all talks. On May 5, 1960 the workers at Bunker Hill went out on strike. This strike was to be different than in the past, for the reactionary and business communities mobilized against the union workers like never seen before in the district. The first important part in this happened in the schools. The school kids were taught about the so-called Communist infiltration in the U.S. Included in that was the claim of Communist control of some labor unions, including the Mine Mill Workers. To back this up they pointed to the expulsion of Mine Mill Workers from the CIO ten years earlier. With the help of some teachers, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion and the Shoshone County Anti-Communists Association a large number of high school kids organized the "I Am An American Youth Movement", and a large anti-Communist march and rally in Kellogg. The anti-Communitist hysteria grew to the point that union miners found their own kids turning against them. Later even a group of miner's wives organized an anti-Communist group. The anti-Communists issue a rather interesting list of words used by "Communist" that included, working class, ruling class, capitalist, tyranny, class struggle, demonstration, character assassination, stool pigeon, coexistence, scabs, big money interests, freedom loving people, democratic action, democratic majority, world peace, and the workers. They stated that "by their words ye shall know them". And asked, "How many have you heard locally?"

The striking workers stood strong threw the summer and then the reactionaries tried something different. A petition for decertification was started up and those that signed on were called Blue Carders. Later it was revealed that a new "American" union, the Northwest Metal Workers, was behind this with the help of the local media that printed their lies and decertification forms in their papers. The Blue Carders got enough signatures for a NLRB decertification election. By the time the election was held in December many of the workers were broken down by the anti-Communists campaign (it was said that only Communists would vote for Mine MIll Workers), some of their kids and wives turning against them and the "Back to Work by Christmas Committee" of the Northwest Metal Workers. This committee had such emotional pleas printed in the local paper such as a little girl looking up at her father saying "will you be back to work by Christmas, daddy?" And "Please, God! for Mommy's sake let daddy go back to work by Christmas." Also, the schools in the Kellogg area stopped the school lunch program saying that it was helping the strikers by feeding their kids. The company union, the Northwest Metal Workers won the election by 51 votes.

Thus closed out the years of the Mine Mill Workers at Bunker Hill. The Metal Workers quickly gave the Bunker Hill bosses the contract that they wanted. A few years later the United Steel Workers took over the Bunker Hill contact along with all the other Mine Mill Worker's contracts in the district. And that is how I came to hold a card in the United Steel Workers a few years later.

This story does not end here, for in 1973 a fire badly damaged the baghouse, where smelter emissions were filtered through cloth bags before being released into the air. Rather than close down the smelter and repair the damage, the jackasses ran the smelter by-passing the baghouse and the built-up lead rained downed upon the surrounding towns. The families, and most tragically the children, were poisoned with lead.

The family of miner Bill Yoss, who had worked underground for 25 years at Bunker Hill, was tested by doctors from the Center for Disease Control. His daughter, Arlene, was found to have more than four times the threshold then considered dangerous. The lead had settled in her bones and her legs grew twisted. Only hot soaking baths would ease her continuous pain. Her mother was told, after the tests on Arlene and her two other children, that she had "three walking dead babies." In 1975 Bill Yoss went to see an attorney in Spokane to see what could be done. While he was away he was fired. The Yoss family filed suit against Bunker Hill. The information gathered for the suit told a story of corporate crime almost beyond comparison. Bunker Hill settled with the Yoss family and the families of 35 other children in 1981. All records and information gathered was sealed by the court, and it was not until 1990 that the records and the story that the suit revealed of the poisoning of the people of the Silver Valley became known.

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