Then as now, a hundred years later!
Mary Harris Jones was arrested and sentenced to prison at the age of 82 for her activism for worker’s rights in the coal mines of West Virginia.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837 – 30 November 1930) was an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent organized labor representative and community organizer. She wrote The Autobiography of Mother Jones in 1925 at the age of 88.
Her life was full of tragic circumstances, from the potato famine of her Irish homeland, which brought her family to Canada, to the devastating loss of her entire family to a yellow fever outbreak while living in Memphis and then losing everything she owned in the Great Chicago Fire.
After this latest loss, Mother Jones began her work as a labor activist. She worked with the Knights of Labor, often giving speeches to inspire the workers during strikes. Around this time, she traveled to numerous strike sites, helping coal miners in Pennsylvania in 1873 and railroad workers in 1877. The way she cared for the workers inspired them to nickname her “Mother.”
Known as the miner’s angel, Mother Jones became an active campaigner for the United Mine Workers Union. A political progressive, she was a founder of the Social Democratic Party in 1898. Jones also helped establish the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. For all of her social reform and labor activities, she was considered by the authorities to be one of the most dangerous women in America.
Because of her activism, it made impacts elsewhere. In 1919, Seattle rose up against tyranny with a peaceful protest, even though anti-union thugs tried to make it something else. This also set off the nation’s labor protests in the Steel industry, the textile industry, again, the Coal industry and even the Boston Police, in 1919.
Seattle has always been a beacon of change, even to this day. Our progressive politics show in the number of women holding esteemed positions in our State’s communities. A new wave of righting the wrongs of a corrupt government is upon us. Thank you Mother Jones, for showing us the way and for showing up! A hundred years later and we are still fighting the same fight.
The Seattle General Strike of 1919 was a five-day general work stoppage by more than 65,000 workers in the city of Seattle, Washington, which lasted from February 6 to February 11 of that year. Dissatisfied workers in several unions began the strike to gain higher wages after two years of World War I wage controls.
The Seattle General Strike of February 1919 was the first twentieth century solidarity strike in the United States to be proclaimed a “general strike.” It led off a tumultuous era of post-World War I labor conflict that saw massive strikes shut down the nation’s steel, coal, and other industries and threaten civil unrest in a dozen cities. The Seattle General Strike Project is a multimedia website exploring this important event. It is part of the Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium based at the University of Washington.
On the morning of February 6, 1919, Seattle, a city of 315,000 people, stopped working. 25,000 union members had joined 35,000 shipyard workers already on strike. The city’s AFL unions, 101 of them, had voted to walk out in a gesture of support and solidarity. And most of the remaining work force stayed home as stores closed and streetcars stopped running. The city was stunned and quiet. While the mayor and business leaders huddled at City Hall, eight blocks away the four-story Labor Temple, headquarters for the Central Labor Council and 60,000 union members, hummed with activity. An elected Strike Committee had taken responsibility for coordinating essential services. Thousands were fed each day at impromptu dining stations staffed by members of the culinary unions. The teamsters union saw to it that supplies reached the hospitals, that milk and food deliveries continued. An unarmed force of labor’s “War Veteran Guards” patrolled the streets, urging calm, urging strikers to stay at home. On the second day, the Mayor threatened to declare martial law and two battalions of US Army troops took up position in the city, but the unions ignored the threat and calm prevailed. “Nothing moved but the tide,” remembered a striker years later.
THEN AS NOW, a hundred years later! Today it’s Teacher’s Strikes that take center stage. But next time there’s a “government shut-down,” take to the streets. We expect better than this from our elected officials!
It worked then and it can work now, when in solidarity!