The Violence of Birth

The Death Special


On a cool spring morning the day after Easter, the sun rose over a a makeshift city of white canvas tents that were the homes of 1200 striking mine workers, their wives and their children. Beneath the rough wood floors of the tents, men had dug pits into which they and their families could quickly jump, seeking safety when random shots were fired into their canvass homes by Colorado Fuel & Irons (CFI) company guards. These same guards, with CFI knowledge had also converted a sedan into an armored vehicle with a mounted M1895 machine gun, appropriately named the Death Special, and was used on a daily basis to terrorize the striking workers and their families along with the random sniper shootings.

Before the sun set that cool Spring day, the leaders of the strike would be found dead, shot in the back, the camp razed, all the tents burned to the ground. Among the brutality, two women and eleven children were dead, found huddled together, having suffocated in a shallow pit. Bodies were left lying for days as an example to other would be strikers.

Their grievances:

Recognition of the union as bargaining agent

An increase in tonnage rates (equivalent to a 10% wage increase)

Enforcement of the eight-hour work day law

Payment for “dead work” (laying track, timbering, handling impurities, etc.)

Weight-checkmen elected by the workers (to keep company weightmen honest)

The right to use any store, and choose their boarding houses and doctors

Strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of scrip), and an end to the company guard system

Promptly at 11 am on July 17th under the hot Arizona sun, 23 cattle cars whose floors were covered in several inches of manure, arrived in Bisbee and 1300 men were loaded, given no food, very little water, and under armed guard were routed to Hermanas, New Mexico, a trip of 12 hours on a 90 degree day. Kicked out of the cattle cars, the 1300 were given no food, no water, nothing except a dire warning to never return to Bisbee again.

Their crime, a peaceful and legal strike.

In September of 1897, 19 unarmed men were shot dead by the Luzerne County Sheriff and his men near Hazleton Pennsylvania for participating in a legal, peaceful strike.

In 1911, 146 garment workers died in what is known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. These women died not only because of unsafe and hazardous working conditions but also because they were unable to leave

The Aftermath
The Aftermath

the building when the fire broke out. Doors had been chained and locked to keep the women working.

While the Ludlow Massacre, the Bisbee Deportation, the Luzerne massacre and the Triangle fire all happened over a hundred years ago, these events should never be far from our collective memory. These humiliations, these tragedies forced upon everyday, hardworking people should always be remembered as the foundation for every Union member. People suffered, people died, their children died under the most horrible abuses of the rich and privileged so that today I have an eight hour work day, the right to shop where and when I want, the right to visit a doctor of my choice, the right to to a safe and secure work environment and to be paid a fair wage.

I do not forget why I am Union!

It would be an easy argument for one to make that these were the result of the times, that they were the result of the fledging Union movement and the abuses should have been expected, given the times. That abuses and tragedies such as these could never happen in the modern era. My rebuttal would be be a simple word, ‘Bullshit’. The murders and injustices happened not because of the tenttime of day but because of human nature. Human nature has not changed, federal intervention has.

Indeed, nothing really changes.

I say to you, that if you believe all the benefits you have today are the result of the goodwill of your employer, you are wrong.

I say to you, that if you believe your employer has your best interest at heart, you are wrong.

I say to you, that if you believe Unions have served their purpose and their time has passed, we will again revisit the days of deportation, murder and humiliation.

If you do not understand this, than Patria Valdez and her three young children died for nothing.


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