July 23 – The 1913 Michigan Copper Miners Strike Begins

Podcast: https://bit.ly/3bataLn

On this day in labor history, the year was 1913.

That was the day 9,000 copper miners in the Keweenaw region of Upper Peninsula, Michigan went on strike.

Organized by the Western Federation of Miners, the strike raged on for over eight months, witnessed devastating tragedy in a Christmas Day fire and ended in bitter defeat.

The strike was waged over basic issues like the eight-hour day, higher wages, mine safety and union recognition.

But strikers were also fed up with the company’s paternalism and intrusion into their personal lives.

They also worried for their jobs with the introduction of labor saving machinery. The WFM succeeded early on in shutting down the mines. But the copper barons wouldn’t budge.

By August, many mines reopened with scab labor.

Later that month, deputies shot two strikers dead and wounded two others, as they returned home from attempting to collect strike benefits.

The incident became known as the Seeberville massacre.

Striking miners were absolutely devastated when on Christmas Day, 73 people, mostly children, were trampled to death during a Christmas party and benefit at the Italian Hall in Calumet.

Witnesses remembered seeing a man with a Citizens Alliance button just moments before someone yelled ‘Fire!’ that caused the stampede.

Soon after the Italian Hall disaster, WFM president Charles Moyer was shot by a Citizens alliance mob, then loaded, bleeding, onto a train bound for Chicago.

By April, the union was broke, the strike was broken and miners resolved to return to work. Bosses would only rehire strikers once they had turned in their union cards.

The copper mines in the region would finally be organized some 30 years later in a campaign led by Mine Mill during the years 1939 to 1943.

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