Editor's note: Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. For more information about this landmark event in US labor history, visit PBS' "American Experience."
© Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Ruins of the Ludlow camp in Colorado, 1914.
On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard and a private militia employed by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I) opened fire on a tent camp of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colo. At least 19 people died in the camp that day, mostly women and children.
A century later, the bloody incident might seem a relic of the distant past, but the Ludlow Massacre retains a powerful, disturbing and growing relevance to the present. After a century of struggling against powerful interests to make American workplaces safer and corporations responsive to their employees, the US is rapidly returning to the conditions of rampant exploitation that contributed to Ludlow.
That's especially true in mining, where a coordinated union-busting campaign
, the corporate capture of federal regulatory agencies, and widespread environmental degradation leave coal miners unsafe and mining communities struggling to deal with the massive environmental impact of modern mining practices.
A century ago, miners led the fight for workers' rights. The Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of great upheaval for the American working class. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had worked to organize the nation's coal miners. Its success often hinged on whether the government helped mining companies crush strikes or protected workers. In 1897, deputies in Luzerne County, Pa., killed 19 striking miners in the Lattimer Massacre
. But five years later, when Pennsylvania miners struck again, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened
on their behalf, providing them with a partial victory. Roosevelt's actions, while hardly indicative a new pro-labor federal government, reflected a growing belief that labor deserved a fair shake.