The American West’s history of radical unionism at the turn of the century reflects the breadth of nineteenth-century class struggle. In Cripple Creek, Colorado, for example, violent conflict broke out in 1903 between members of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and corporate mining interests determined to crush the union. Before it was over, thirty men were dead and the union was defeated. Though hostile to the Socialist-leaning WFM, American Federal of Labor leader Samuel Gompers issued the following June 20, 1904, statement in support of the striking miners at Cripple Creek.
American Federation of Labor,
Washington, D. C., June 20, 1904
To Organized Labor of America, Greeting:
You are fairly or fully familiar with the outrageous condition of affairs which exists in Colorado, and, therefore, a brief résumé here will be preferable to details which may be learned through another and more convenient source. Suffice it to say that in Colorado to-day all semblance of civil law and constitutional rights are trampled under foot and flagrantly violated. The rule of gun and bayonet is supreme, and doing the bidding of the most unscrupulous organization of men, who are prompted by no other thought or purpose than avarice, greed, and power—the mine owners—organized as the Citizens' Alliance. They have Governor Peabody absolutely under their thumb. He is doing their bidding and carrying out the bargain entered into prior to his election, to prevent the enactment of the eight-hour law by the Colorado legislature, and which enactment is directly commanded by the constitution of that State.
There can be no question as to the fact that this gross violation of constitutional command, the failure to enact an eight-hour law, was the cause of the strike of the enforcement of an eight-hour work-day and the effort on the part of the mine owners to frustrate that effort by every means at their command, and the sending of the military forces by Governor Peabody to overawe the miners and to break the strike. Whatever lawlessness has been committed by either or both sides is due to the first lawless act of governor of Colorado and his continual usurpation of power and exercise of tyranny and brute force.
Surely it is entirely superfluous and unnecessary for us too say that we have no excuse to offer for crime committed no matter by whom and that there are certain policies pursued by the Western Federation of Miners that run counter to those advocated by the American Federation of Labor, but we submit that in the conception—and execution of justice there can not be and ought not to be one rule of law for one and another for the other among our people.
Under the combined domination in Colorado of the mine owners, the governor, and the military forces, the State courts have been unable or unwilling to accord men either a fair trial or any trial at all, or accord them the rights to which they were entitled under the constitution and law of the State and the United States, so that the judiciary in Colorado has largely yielded the civil rights and functions of the court to the combination of plutocracy and militarism.
If the striking miners have been guilty of the crime with which they are publicly charged, they should be arrested, indicted and tried by the courts of the State, and if found guilty by a jury of their peers, punished. But this should be by due process of law provided by the statute and the constitution of Colorado and by our country.
There can be no justifiable excuse for abolishing civil law and civil government in any district of Colorado and establishing military rule so long as there is one district in all the State in which a trial in the civil courts, before an impartial an unprejudiced jury, is possible.
Weeks have elapsed since the dynamite disaster by which many men were killed and wounded at Victor, Colo., yet not one scintilla of evidence, either official or unofficial, has been vouchsafed the public connecting the striking miners or their organization with that disaster. Yet men have been placed under military arrest, thrown into the bull pen without any charge having been made against them by any complainant, judge or grand jury.
The mine owners, under the assumed name of the Citizens' Alliance, have unceremoniously summoned the officers elected by the people and demanded their resignations, and if they either refused or hesitated, ropes with nooses at the end were flung at their feet, the alternative given them for signing their already prepared resignations or be hanged.
Men against whom no charge, either direct or indirect, was made, were dragged bodily from their homes by armed guards, placed on trains and deported from the State.
The Citizens‘ Alliance has declared “Death to unionism in the Cripple Creek district,” and this is evidently its purpose, though its members have for strategic reasons, moderated that declaration. Nor do they have in mind the Cripple creek district alone, but organized labor of the entire country, for all will readily understand that the mine owners’ organization of Colorado, that is the Citizens' Alliance, is an offshoot of the “Parry” species of antagonism, regardless of the attitude which the trade-union movement may take.
In view of the critical situation of affairs in Colorado, and the fact that there is not now and may not for some time be a fair opportunity for the miners of Colorado to have accorded them and maintained by the courts of that State the rights to which the men are entitled, both in accordance with the laws and constitution of Colorado and the United States, we are firmly of the opinion that their only redress is to and through Federal courts of the United States.
And inasmuch as there are unlimited millions at the disposal of the mine owners of Colorado in their lawless and brutal attempt to rob the men of their organization and their liberty (and if they deem necessary of their lives), in the interest not only of the labor movement but in the interest of justice and right, fair dealing, the protection of the rights and liberties and lives—the rights for which the labor movement stands—we appeal to all organized labor and friends to give not only their moral but financial assistance, so that the great questions of constitutional liberty, human rights and civil government may be properly presented and defended and we hope finally proclaimed and sustained by the Federal courts of our country.
A special session of the Colorado legislature must be called at once to comply with the command of the State constitution and enact an eight-hour law with proper penalty provisions against its violation. The legislature must hold to a strict accountability all who have violated statutory, constitutional and fundamental law and human rights. In the meantime every effort should be made by all lovers of their fellows to bring to an amicable adjustment the industrial situations which now obtain in Colorado. The freedom of principles of our Republic, the progress of civilization are hanging n the balance.
Send all financial contributions to maintain the legal rights of Colorado miners to Mr. W. D. Haywood, secretary of the Western Federation of Miners, 625 Exchange Building, Denver, Colo.
[SEAL] SAML. GOMPERS, PRESIDENT
Frank Morrison, Secretary,
James Duncan, First Vice-President
John Mitchell, Second Vice-President,
James O’Connell, Third Vice-President,
Max Morris, Fourth Vice-President,
Thos. I. Kidd, Fifth Vice-President,
D. A. Hayes, Sixth Vice-President,
Daniel J. Keefe, Seventh Vice-President,
William J. Spencer, Eighth Vice-President,
John B. Lennon, Treasurer,
Executive Council American Federation of Labor.
Source: U.S. Congress, A Report on Labor Disturbances in Colorado from 1880 to 1904, Inclusive (Washington, D.C., 1905), 278–80.
See Also:Playing for the Press: Strike Coverage by the Media
Ideas in Conflict: Opposing Views of the Cripple Creek Strike
Union-Busting at Cripple Creek