Here’s a throw back Monday for you – a photo from July 23, 1913 of children marching in Calumet during the tumultuous miners’ strikes of 1913. It’s an interesting case study for our modern world given that the driver was the same driver that’s beginning to impact our labor market – automation. The excellent article Labor unions, strikes and violence in the Keweenaw: The Copper Miner Strike of 1913 – this is seriously great work by Frank Zawada’s descendent(s) – the says that there had been strikes in the Keweenaw in 1872, 1874, 1890 and 1893, but they hadn’t turned deadly. And then:
Around 1910, the mining companies sought to cut back the expenses of mining, and they started to consider lighter machinery such as the J. George Leyner rock drills. Leyners drills were 154-pounds heavy, compared to the 293-pound drills then in use at the mines. Not only that, but the smaller drills could drill just as much as the larger drills but with only one person to man it, instead of two.
The mining companies tried these drills out with the miners, and it was pretty unanimous; the miners didn’t like the new drills. First of all, the men complained that the drills were still too heavy for one man to carry, set up and operate. Secondly, losing a drilling partner opened up safety concerns – who would watch out for the guy alone on the drill if something should happen to him in the loud, darkened mine? Third, but related to number two, was worker concern of being displaced to a lower-paying job or of losing one’s job altogether when the one-man drills became the standard.
Discontent brewed amongst the workers in the mines, and some miners refused to use the drills. Some got into fights with the management about the drills. And some miners walked off the job or were told to leave for disobeying the new rules. Before things could get too crazy, winter set in and so the miners calmed the labor unrest. By early 1913, tensions were running at maximum capacity between workers and the mining companies on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Read on for more about this strike that turned into one of Michigan’s most deadly labor struggles, including the Italian Hall Massacre of Christmas 1913 in which dozens and dozens of of these children lost their lives.