Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6th – Cripple Creek Day

Story: This is the story of the 8 hour day, and one of the larger private battles in US history. In 1894 the Cripple Creek Colorado mine owners lengthened the standard work day from 8 hour shifts, to 10 hour shifts, at the same pay of 3$ a day. The miners unionized in a hurry and struck. By the end of Feb pretty much every mine in Colorado was shut down, although by Mar some had given in to the Union demands and others had succeeded in bringing in non-union workers from further away.

There were fights between striking miners and “scabs.” There was an incident were strikers ambushed 6 deputy sheriffs, leading to a fistfight and shots fired. Gov. Davis Waite, who was a Populist, called in 300 National Guard to observe the scene and keep the peace, and they did in fact find things peaceful. They went home, thinking the reports of chaos in the area had been exaggerated. The Unions and owners negotiated, but in May talks broke down.

The mine owners met with Sheriff Bowers of Colorado Springs, saying they were going to bring in hundreds of nonunion workers and asking if he could protect him. He said, nope, he was stretched too thin. So the mine owners offered to subsidize the pay of another 100 deputies, and the Sheriff began recruiting. The workers dug in, and fortified their camp on Bull Hill. The strikers began practicing military drills, and making military fortifications. May 24th, 125 deputies approached the fortified camp on Bull Hill, and the strikers used dynamite to blow a shafthouse 300 feet into the air as the deputies approached. The deputies fled with no shots fired, and the next night the mine backers agreed to finance a force of upto 1,200 additional deputies, and again recruitment began …

Gov. Waite got wind and ordered the strikers to disband their camp on Bull Hill, he ordered the deputies to stop recruiting and disband their private army of over a thousand deputies, declaring it an illegal body, and he ordered the state militia to get back to Cripple Creek ASAP. Waite met with the mine owners and the Union leader trying again to broker something, on the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A lynch mob attempted to catch and kill the governor and union president Calderwood, but a local judge distracted the mob, while they escaped via a back route. The negotiators tried again, and by June 4th, both parties had reached an agreement, on an 8 hour day at 3$ an hour, and no retaliations, but also an agreement not to harass any nonunion workers that chose to remain.

But by this point Sheriff Bowers had lost control of his 1,300 man army, which marched on Bull Hill cutting telegraph and telephone wires, and imprisoning reporters. Again the state militia was send in and when they arrived on June 6th fighting was already taking place. There was gunfire exchanged between the two armies. As the head of the militia and Sheriff Bowers argued about what to do next, the Deputies charged the hill but were repulsed. The militia occupied the Hill, and the strikers gave them no resistance and they ordered the deputies to stand down. The deputies then occupied the town of Cripple Creek, arresting, imprisoning, dragging people from their homes and beating or clubbing them. So the militia came into town and began arresting the Deputies. By nightfall the state militia was in control. The mine owners refused to disband their army of deputies, at first, that had not be agreed to in the negotiations, but by June 11th they began standing down. To this day it is the only time in US history that a State Militia has intervened on the striker’s side.

The strike was a huge success for the Unions, and within a few years there were 54 occupations unionized in Cripple Creek, and the Western Federation of Miners was at the peak of its power. But the WFM was tarred with the brush of violence, and its 1898 strike did not go well, and as for 1903-4, well that usually gets called the Colorado Labor Wars these days. Public support went slowly against the miners, and Gov. Waite, and the Populist movement were defeated soundly in the Nov. elections that year, and never recovered, mostly because he was seen as being pro-labor. The mine owners also hardened their stance, and readied for the next round, turning to the Thiel Detective Agency, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency for security arrangements instead of impromptu last minute army-raising. And their combination of spies, lockouts, blacklisting, and strikebreaking proved much more effective. But just this once, the Gov. and the State Militia fought to defend the strikers against the attacks of the private army financed by the owners.

I am grateful for the 8 hour work day, or what is left of it.
I am grateful that private armies are still rare in the US.
I am grateful that government occasional intervenes for the people against armies gone wild, or even against the interests of the owners.

Other Notables for the day
YMCA founded 1844, Martyrdom of James Meredith (1966 civil rights activist), Martyrdom? of Robert Kennedy, Jr. (1968, politician), deaths of Patrick Henry (patriot), Louis Lumiere (pioneer of cinema), and Karl Jung (psychoanalyst), birth of Sandra Bernhard (comedian)

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