Today in the 1913 Copper Strike

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

This is the first page of the letter urging the eviction of men living in company housing but supporting the strike that Haller sent to MacNaughton on this day in October 1913. (Photo is courtesy of the Michigan Tech Archives, Keweenaw Digital Archive)

On this day in the strike Frank Haller, superintendent of the Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, sent the above letter to James MacNaughton, General Manager of the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, the firm that owned Osceola Consolidated. The letter is a list of men from the Osceola mine location who were living in company housing while participating in the strike. Haller urges MacNaughton to evict the strikers: “Herewith please find lists of tenants who have made themselves obnoxious and undesirable since the strike began and should be evicted.”  A second page of the letter says “there are others at each location who are not working and may have to be evicted later; it would be well to start action on this list as soon as possible.”

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Suggested Read: Rebels on the Range

Rebels on the Range: The Michigan Copper Miner’s Strike of 1913-1914
Arthur W. Thurner
John H. Forster Press 1984

Given recent events in states like Wisconsin, I thought it appropriate to share some historical perspectives on labor relations in the Copper Country.  Rebels on the Range: The Michigan Copper Miner’s Strike of 1913-1914 by Arthur W. Thurner looks at the events of the copper strike, which began in July 1913.  With representation by the Western Federation of Miners, copper mine strikers fought for a shorter working day, improved working conditions, higher wages, and recognition of their union.  Of particular interest to worker safety was the one-man drill (as opposed to the drill that used two workers), which from a company perspective saved on wage hours but from a worker perspective greatly increased the instance of serious and possibly fatal injury.   Rebels on the Range chronicles the events which prompted the strike and discusses the events of the strike itself.  Thurner takes care to discuss those events directly related to the mines and the goals of strikers as well as those events that impacted the community and families, such as the Italian Hall disaster.  As a local of Calumet, Thurner was able to utilize local resources and interview local people to create his account of local labor history.

In addition to recommending this book for those interested in the copper miner’s strike and general labor history I would also like to recommend that you take a look at the journal Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas. If you are unable to subscribe, please take a look at four articles that they recently made available to the public.  The articles listed below will help place current labor struggles into a broader historical context.  I think these articles will be great discussion starters.

Joseph A. McCartin
“Fire the Hell out of Them”: Sanitation Workers’ Struggles and the Normalization of the Striker Replacement Strategy in the 1970s

Nelson Lichtenstein
Despite EFCA’s Limitations, Its Demise Is a Profound Defeat for U.S. Labor

Laura Murphy
An “Indestructible Right”: John Ryan and the Catholic Origins of the U.S. Living Wage Movement, 1906-1938

Keith Gildart
Two Kinds of Reform: Left Leadership in the British National Union of Mineworkers and the United Mineworkers of America, 1982-1990

Currently Reading: Death’s Door

Interior of Italian Hall - Photo Courtesy of MTU Archives/Keweenaw Digital Archive

Over the holidays of 1913 the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the whole state, and the country as a whole heard news of a tragedy that took place in the city of Calumet. On Christmas Eve on the second floor of Italian Hall, a gathering place for locals, mostly striking miners and their families enjoyed a crowded and festive holiday party. At one point, someone cried “Fire” and panic swept over the crowd and people fled down the stairs and for the door. The doors were stuck. Panic swelled. Yet, there was no fire.

In the aftermath of the chaos it was found that six dozen people, many of them children, had been crushed to death in the stampede for the door. The lingering questions of how such a thing could happen and why the doors wouldn’t budge open when people tried to evacuate have intrigued local people and historians for almost a century.

I am currently reading a book that tackles the Italian Hall disaster, Death’s Door: The Truth Behind Michigan’s Largest Mass Murder by Steve Lehto. I hope to have a review in the coming week. In the meantime, please have a listen to Woody Guthrie’s song, 1913 Massacre, which was named after this tragic event.