Memorial desecrated

Ludlow, Colo. – One of organized labor’s most sacred and cherished shrines, the Ludlow Memorial, was desecrated on or shortly after the evening of May 7. Vandals cut through solid granite and marble to sever the heads off the statues of a miner and his wife. The wife’s arm, holding a baby, was also removed and stolen.

“It’s so sad, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Mike Romero, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 9856 in Trinidad, Colo.

“We have no leads at all, but a $5,000 reward is out there to find out who done this,” Romero stated.

The UMWA fully intends to restore the statues and would like to recover the missing parts hauled away by the vandals. Recovery of the parts could reduce restoration costs that will likely be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The restoration would be easier if the original parts, uniformly weathered since their construction in 1917, could be recovered.

“Seeing the damage and desecration tore me up,” said Bob Butero, regional organizing director of the UMWA.

Pointing at the grounds surrounding the memorial, Butero stated, “This was a battleground in an economic war. These martyrs set the table for all the things we enjoy in wages, benefits and working conditions for workers in America today.”

Although Butero noted that the identity of the vandals is only speculation at this point, he feels that the vandalism “might have been some shot at the labor movement or the UMWA.”

According to Butero, local residents and union members are deeply pained by the desecration of the memorial. Many have ancestors who participated in the strike of 1913-1914. They consider the grounds at Ludlow to be sacred grounds symbolizing collective sacrifice and struggle for all workers. Butero says that, for workers, this site is similar to the Arlington National Cemetery. Workers spilled their blood here for our freedom.

The union welcomes donations from the public to help restore the memorial. Donations above restoration costs will be used to improve the historic site. Checks should be made out to “Ludlow Memorial Fund” and mailed to Mike Romero, UMWA Local 9856, at 1804 N. Linden Ave., Trinidad, CO 81082. (See related story below)



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Remembering the Ludlow Massacre

By Dennis DeMaio

In the opening decade of the 20th century, mine workers in Colorado were engaged in a bitter struggle with the mine owners in the Colorado coalfield wars. Throughout the state, mine workers were in the forefront of the struggle for the eight-hour day, liberation from paychecks in “company scrip,” the fight for union recognition and the struggle to rise above subsistent wages.

Between the coal strikes of 1903 and 1913, little changed in the brutal working conditions for mine workers. They paid exorbitant rents for company-owned shacks, used scrip to buy goods at inflated prices in company stores and worked in underground pits with fatality rates comparable to the Industrial Revolution.

While locked into these brutal economic conditions, the ability of mine workers to organize was severely curtailed by the virtual suspension of the U.S. Constitution in Colorado. Martial law was regularly invoked during strikes, curfews were imposed in company owned towns and workers were routinely stripped of due process rights.

During strikes, union members were often rounded up, put on freight trains and “deported” to Kansas and New Mexico. Military troops occupied courtrooms and sometimes “reversed” the orders of judges. The Mine Owners Association subsidized a 30,000-member vigilante force that beat up, framed and murdered union members throughout the state.

Amid growing concerns about a worker-hostile police state, Colorado reporters questioned General Sherman Bell about the alarming escalation of constitutional infractions. Bell retorted, “To hell with the Constitution. We’re not following the Constitution!”

Preceding the Colorado mine strike of 1913, the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) owned 27 mining camps and produced 40 percent of the coal mined in Colorado. Resisting any concessions to improve wages or working conditions for the miners, CF&I prepared for war with its workers by building up its arsenal of machine guns and hiring additional security guards. When CF&I refused to negotiate, workers struck CF&I in the fall of 1913.

When the strike began, CF&I immediately evicted the miners and their families from company-owned shacks. The United Mine Workers of America quickly moved to erect tents on union leased property to house the miners and their families. About 13,000 miners – roughly 90 percent of the striking miners – occupied 13 tent colonies, including Ludlow.

To the owners, the tent colonies were viewed as poison to the economic stew the owners enjoyed. While the mine owners intentionally segregated their housing to separate and divide their ethnically diverse workers, the Ludlow area tent colonies integrated the workers. Twenty-one different ethnic groups were mixed together in the tent colonies as one group of striking workers. It horrified the mine owners to see these workers sharing food, fuel and conversation together in a unified purpose of shared struggle.

From the fall of 1913 through April of 1914, company thugs and company subsidized state militia forces mounted an escalating campaign of violence against the striking workers. Troops routinely fired indiscriminate rounds of bullets into the colonies. Guns were confiscated from miners, women were raped and numerous strikers were stripped of due process rights and jailed. The legendary Mother Jones was also arrested and held incommunicado for 20 days.

Exactly at 9 a.m. on April 20, 1914, the organized assault on the Ludlow tent colony began. Company thugs and state militia opened fire with machine guns; their bullets ripped through the canvas tents. Early on in the assault, five strikers and a 10-year-old boy were killed by gunfire.

Throughout the day, the striking miners worked frantically to evacuate their families from the unfolding genocide. The popular strike leader, Louis Tikas, was captured by troops as he attempted to evacuate a woman and two children from the carnage. He had earlier suffered a beating and jail detention for his strike activities. Tikas, union secretary James Fyler, and one other union prisoner were summarily executed by troops while defenseless and under guard by lawless thugs.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on April 20, 1914, the state militia and CF&I company thugs drenched the canvas tents of Ludlow with coal oil. Under the direction of Lieutenant Kenneth Linderfelt, the colony was raided and the tents were ignited. Soldiers looted, smashed and pillaged the tent colony before it erupted into an inferno of flame and tragedy.

During the morning of April 21, 1914, workers made their way through the smoldering ruins of Ludlow. A twisted iron cot covered a pit dug into the ground. It was a routine pit dug to protect the striking miners and their families from the shower of bullets fired regularly into the camp. In this pit, the bodies of two young mothers and eleven children lay beneath the rubbish. The children ranged in age from three months to nine years.

In 1917, the Ludlow Memorial was built above the pit where the mothers and children were found. The memorial simply states, “Erected by the United Mine Workers of America to the memory of the men, women and little children who died in freedom’s cause, April 20, 1914.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org