Religious concepts and metaphors suffused the words and ideas of many late nineteenth-century American workers. The New and Old Testaments provided not only personal succor to many working people but also a set of allusions and parables they applied directly to their lives and struggles in industrial America. Working-class ideas and writing often were cast in stark millenarian terms, with prophesies of imminent doom predicted for capitalists who worshipped at Mammon’s temple and imminent redemption for hard-working, long-suffering, and God-fearing laboring men and women. Christ was uniformly depicted in workers' writing as a poor workingman put on Earth to teach the simple principles of brotherhood and unionism. In this 1894 hellfire-and-brimstone editorial in The United Mine Workers Journal, “Pumpkin Smasher” counseled the “honest workman” to have faith in the ultimate punishment of those responsible for making miners' lives harsh and brutal.
The labor question in my opinion is the great backbone of all other questions. Without labor this beautiful country . . . would to-day be still a home for the lurking Indians, the gray bear, the panther and all other wild animals. But labor has made this land a paradise for a few and a charnel house for its many. Labor has made this country into a bed of roses, so that a few may lie therein, and bask in the beautiful God given sunshine, while the laborer or the creator of all this splendor is roaming in rags all tattered and torn. But what does it matter? He is only a tramp. An honest workman, the pride of his country to day, a tramp only fit for the alms house or the penitentiary to-morrow. Cheer up my brothers, the longest night comes to an end, and so will this night of cruel serfdom have an end. It may end by an honest use of the ballot box, but as that can never be until the great and glorious millenium with all its attendant beauties set in, brothers we need not look for deliverance through the medium of the ballot box. But it will come just the same. It may come like it did to the Israelitish serfs down yonder in Egypt, or it might come like it did in France in those long days of rebellion. Or, my brothers, it may come as it did to the colored slave of the South by sword and fire. Let us be ready to eat the Paschal lamb at any moment the trumpet sounds. Let us have our armor on and our shoes upon our feet and standing in the strength of honest integrity. . . .
Hear this, O ye that swallowed up the needy even to make the poor of the land to gall. Though they dig into hell thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up into heaven thence will I bring them down. They cannot escape the great wrath of an offended God.
Source: Pumpkin Smasher (Newcomb, Tennessee) to the editor, The United Mine Workers' Journal, 29 March 1894.
See Also:Introducing New Recruits to "Labor's Catechism"
"The Brotherhood of Man": A Unionist Uses the Bible
"In the Sight of God": Woes of a Miner's Wife
Was Christ a Union Man?