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Vol. 74/No. 20      May 24, 2010

Mother Jones: ‘Industrial
war is on in this country’
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from Mother Jones Speaks, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. From the end of the Civil War until her death in 1930 at the age of 100, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was a tireless fighter for the working class. Much of her efforts went into the great battles to organize the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Traveling throughout the coalfields of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Alabama, and elsewhere, she joined miners facing cops and troops, hired gun thugs, judges and prosecutors, bringing to bear the power of the union. The piece below is from a speech she delivered at the 1911 convention of the UMWA. Copyright 1983 by Philip Foner. Reprinted by permission.

[P]erhaps never in the history of the mine workers was there a more important convention than this. The eyes of the world are resting today and all other days you are in session on this hall. The master class is watching your convention with keen interest. And so I say to you, be wise, be prudent in your actions. Think before you act. Don’t give the master class any weapon to strike you with and laugh about. Let us have the laugh on them.

Now, my brothers, the last year has been a trying year for organized labor all along the line. There have been some wonderful fights on the industrial field. It has not been alone the miners, it has not been alone the steel workers.1 For the first time, perhaps, the women in the industrial field have begun to awaken to their condition of slavery. In New York and Philadelphia the women arrayed themselves in battle, and they gave battle fearlessly. They were clubbed, they were jailed, they were insulted, but they bore it all for a principle they believed in.2 Never can a complete victory be won until the woman awakens to her condition….

And so it is with us in this nation. Never as long as the women are unorganized, as long as they devote their time to women’s clubs and to the ballot, and to a lot of old meow things that don’t concern us at all and have no bearing on the industrial battle, can we succeed, and the men will have to make the battle alone. But the century is here when the woman is going to take a mighty hand in these battles, and then we will fight it out and fight it to a finish. Put that down, Mr. Reporter!

Now, I want to call your attention to some things. The industrial war is on in this country. Why? Because modern machinery plays a greater part in the production of wealth in this nation than it does in any other nation of the world. The class that owns the machine owns the government, it owns the governors, it owns the courts and it owns the public officials all along the line. There may be an exception, but on the whole it is true… .

If there is an organization in this land or in any other land the master classes are afraid of, if there is an organization they want to split in two, it is the United Mine Workers of America.3 They are putting up every sort of game to divide our forces, but they are going to get left, my friends. We may have a little housecleaning, we may have a little jawing and chewing the rag; but when the time comes we will line up and give the master class what they have been looking for. In Colorado you have sixteen men in jail. A distinguished judge, owned body and soul and brains—and he never had any too much brains—by the corporations, has put sixteen of our men in jail. Let me serve notice on the judges of this country that the day is not far distant when we will put every capitalist judge in jail and make a man out of him. That day is coming and it is not far away. Put that down, Mr. Reporter, so the judges will know it!

They take our boys and for no cause on earth put them in jail. In Greensburg they hauled them in all over the county, and gave them nothing to eat until the miners came along, put up their treasury, bailed them out and they went back again to help their brother strikers.4 They are trying to create a riot. Fellows will go out and say, “Why, the miners are very peaceful.” I wonder what those fellows think? We will be peaceful if they give us what belongs to us, but we will not be very peaceful while they are skinning us. We are at war, and there is no war so fierce as an industrial battle. No war on the battlefield of the world’s history can equal an industrial battle.

1. The reference is to the strike of the steel workers at the Pressed Steel Car Company, led by the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Bethlehem Steel strike led by the American Federation of Labor.

2. The reference is to the uprising of the waistmakers which took place in Philadelphia as well as in New York City.

3. In 1911 the United Mine Workers of America was the largest union in the United States, with a membership close to 300,000.

4. The strike in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania is described by Mother Jones in her Autobiography (pp. 145-47). There she also tells of the role played by the miners’ wives, under her leadership, who carried on the battle against the scabs after their husbands had been imprisoned. The women also went to jail, and at Mother Jones’s advice, took their babies with them, and, at her direction, sang “the whole night long.” They caused so much noise that the townspeople could not sleep. “Finally after five days in which every one in town had been kept awake, the judge ordered their release.” (Ibid., p. 147.) The same tactic was used by I.W.W. free-speech fighters in their battle for the right to speak on the street corners.

Related articles:
Nickel strikers in Canada say, ‘Enough is enough!’
Unionists strike Boeing plant in California  
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