In the summer of 1913, all mining companies in the Copper Country received identical letters. These letters announced that a general strike would be undertaken by local members of a union known as the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), headquartered in Butte, Montana. The strike would begin if the mining companies did not agree to bargain with the union. Since the companies did not reply to the letters or bargain with the union, the strike began at the end of July 1913. The WFM had been operating in the area for some time, and was already notorious for strikes they had initiated in Colorado and Montana. What was to follow would tear the quiet wilderness area apart, pitting neighbor against neighbor; bitter conflict that would change the course of events in the area permanently. Murder, assault, intimidation, and many other crimes would plague the copper district until a terrible tragedy would finally spell the beginning of the end of the strike. This section of the V.U.P will give background information on the strike that took over the entire area; not just the mines and those associated with them, for several months near the beginning of the century.
The chief grievances of the miners represented by the WFM were, in some respects reasonable; in others, impossible to satisfy. Foremost amongst these grievances was the implementation and use of the one-man drill, which the miners claimed would put many of them out of jobs. The previous drills which were the standard in the mines were operated by two men; a one-man version, the miners feared, would cut their numbers in half. Also, the strikers demanded that two men be involved in the operation of all equipment for the sake of worker safety. This aspect of the strike is discussed in a much fuller fashion in its own section of this segment of the V.U.P.
Other grievances held by the miners involved demands for an 8 hour work day, recognition of the union, a minimum wage of $3 for underground workers, and a pay increase of 35 cents per day for all surface workers.
At the time of the beginning of the strike, the WFM claimed nine thousand members in the region, with 98% of them voting in favor of the strike. As stated above, the strike began when companies refused to reply to the letter sent by the union representatives, fearing it would legitimize the union. All but two small mines in the region were closed beginning July 23rd, with more than 14,500 total workers (strikers and non-strikers) off the job. Rioting and violence was widespread during the first few days of the strike, as union men clashed with those non union miners attempting to go to work. After many injuries and property damage, the sheriff of Houghton County, James Cruse, petitioned Governor Woodbridge Ferris to send the National Guard into the area. Fearing that the men deputized by his department for keeping order would be insufficient; Cruse also contracted men from the Waddell-Mahon agency of New York. These strike breakers were well known to the WFM, having been involved in other strikes supported by the union in the western U.S. Waddell-Mahon men, as well as Ascher detectives, were also employed by the mining companies. It was the employment of these men that angered strikers the most.
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