No Cover Image

Community in Conflict: A Working-class History of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike and the Italian Hall Tragedy

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 358
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Community in Conflict
    Book Description:

    A mirror of great changes that were occurring on the national labor rights scene, the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Strike was a time of unprecedented social upheaval in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. With organized labor taking an aggressive stance against the excesses of unfettered capitalism, the stage was set for a major struggle between labor and management. The Michigan Copper Strike received national attention and garnered the support of luminaries in organized labor like Mother Jones, John Mitchell, Clarence Darrow, and Charles Moyer. The hope of victory was overshadowed, however, by violent incidents like the shooting of striking workers and their family members, and the bitterness of a community divided. No other event came to symbolize or memorialize the strike more than the Italian Hall tragedy, in which dozens of workers and working-class children died. InCommunity in Conflict,the efforts of working people to gain a voice on the job and in their community through their unions, and the efforts of employers to crush those unions, take center stage. Previously untapped historical sources such as labor spy reports, union newspapers, coded messages, and artifacts shine new light on this epic, and ultimately tragic, period in American labor history.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-385-2
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In many ways, the Copper Country was a typical late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century American mining region with disputes between labor and management that every so often climaxed in a divisive labor strike. Atypical, however, was one specific event in the Copper Country’s history—the Italian Hall tragedy in Calumet, Michigan, on Christmas Eve in 1913. That night, during a holiday party organized for the strikers’ children, someone yelled “Fire!” in a crowded labor hall, and the party’s attendees rushed toward the front door to escape the fire they believed had started in the hall. Before they could exit Italian Hall,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Context
    (pp. 9-24)

    On the afternoon of April 4, 1914, Joseph Cannon of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was addressing a group of radicals and workers with news of the great Copper Country Strike still under way in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The well-attended speech was delivered to some of the leading lights of American radicalism, including Carlo Tresca and Alexander Berkman. In spite, or perhaps because, of the significance of the topic as well as the notoriety of those in the crowd, the speech was broken up by police who clubbed their way through the crowd, attacking and injuring some of the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Community
    (pp. 25-44)

    On September 1, 1913, unionized workers throughout the Copper Country joined their family members and supporters in celebrating Labor Day. However, this holiday differed substantially from earlier Labor Days as it occurred in the middle of the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike. TheMiners’ Bulletin, the organ of the striking mineworkers, reported the size of the celebration as well as the dedication of the workers who turned out: “Labor Day at Hancock witnessed the largest gathering in its history. The miners from Painesdale and South Range formed in parade and marched in celebration, the former walking nine miles to reach...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Immigrants
    (pp. 45-66)

    In the years leading up to the 1913–14 Copper Country Strike, immigrant laborers took on an increasingly important role in the Copper Country’s labor force, as well as in its radical and workers’ movements. The presence of European-born workers and their children was visible in union memberships, in the foreign-language labor and left-wing publications they wrote, and in the community spaces they owned and operated. Additionally, immigrant radicals—especially the “Red” Finns—carried out a number of public demonstrations in which their politics and ethnicity were on display. The best known of these parades came on July 28, 1907,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Troublemakers
    (pp. 67-80)

    Picnics, parades, and conventions were all characteristic of the rich public culture crafted by Copper Country socialists during the early twentieth century. Perhaps the radicals’ favorite date for taking to the streets was the first of May, May Day, widely known as International Workers’ Day. Each year working people gathered in cities and towns across the nation to celebrate May Day, a day that regularly featured such radical staples as soapbox speeches and mass demonstrations. While the holiday was only sporadically celebrated in the Copper Country during the early twentieth century, by 1913, on the verge of the Copper Country...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Organization
    (pp. 81-104)

    Due to the efforts of early union organizers, class-conscious immigrants, and resilient radicals, Copper Country mineworkers began to believe that there was an opportunity to collectively voice their concerns about wages, hours, and working conditions in an attempt to exert some control over their labor. Many laborers in Copper Country mines came to understand that there was no way around it—mining was a dangerous job. Each and every day a mineworker went underground there was a chance he would never see the sky again. Those were the cold, hard facts of hard-rock mining in the Copper Country. Imagine a...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Union
    (pp. 105-134)

    As Bruce “Utah” Phillips melodically rambled in a spoken-word song on the Grammy-nominated albumFellow Workers, “There are so few wars of peoples’ liberation, for the people have seldom risen.”¹ The people were rising in the Copper Country. For many strikers, but not all, this conflict was a war—a class war—of people’s liberation. To others, the strike involved bread-and-butter issues: higher wages, safer working conditions, and recognition of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) as the official representative of Copper Country mineworkers.

    To those who saw this as class war, it was easy to see the hallmarks of...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER 7 Company
    (pp. 135-166)

    It was rigged. It was all rigged. The entire Keweenaw Peninsula was bought and sold a long time before anyone with a red Western Federation of Miners (WFM) card stepped onto the Keweenaw’s copper-rich ground. Documentary evidence demonstrates that from the gerrymandering of local elections, to the thumbs-up or thumbs-down of naturalization decisions by mine managers, to the December 1913 campaign of violence orchestrated by mining companies and the procompany Citizens’ Alliance, the strategy and tactics to “rid the Copper Country of the WFM and its foreign agitators” were a brutal but well-orchestrated presentation of mining company power and manipulation...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Tragedy
    (pp. 167-198)

    The 1913–14 Copper Country Strike was a bitter conflict between the burgeoning strength of organized labor and the entrenched power of American industrial capital. Like many of the bloody labor conflicts that came before, there were casualties in the Copper Country: Alois “Louie” Tijan and Steve Putrich gave their lives and became martyrs to the cause, while Margaret Fazekas came within an inch of martyrdom. The strike caused bloody class conflict in many cases, but one event more than any other has come to symbolize the acute bitterness present in the Copper Country during the 1913–14 Copper Country...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Fire!?
    (pp. 199-220)

    The absolute chaos surrounding the horrible and tragic events at Italian Hall had no precedent in Michigan history and was on disastrous par with tragic events in American labor history such as the deaths at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. A massive crowd gathered around the hall minutes after the events unfolded, and a morbid interest surrounded the events thereafter. Shock waves registered and radiated from the epicenter of the tragedy in Calumet to other locations in the United States as well as internationally. Newspapers in Chicago, New York, and Boston (among other places) carried news of...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Cave-In
    (pp. 221-238)

    In mining lingo a “cave-in” is the falling of a massive amount of earth on the top of a person. In coalmines, this could mean an entire mountain would collapse on top of people, stranding or killing hundreds of people; but in the Keweenaw, cave-ins generally happened when a section or rock from the “hanging” wall or overhead “ceiling” fell to the bottom of a work area known as a “stope.” In this situation, most times, one, two, or three persons died under such singular, thousand-pound rockfalls. Area ground shook fiercely with earthquake force, rattling windows and causing feet to...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 239-244)

    After the great struggle to organize the Copper Country was over, there was time to pause and consider the effects the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike had on Michigan and America. Perhaps theLocomotive Firemen’s Magazine, the journal for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, which ran articles about the strike, put the strike in the most appropriate perspective. The newspaper argued that if the Citizens’ Alliance was allowed to persist in its “insane attitude” and break the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), it would not stop until it successfully drove “union labor forever out of the copper country.”¹


  18. Notes
    (pp. 245-280)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-298)
  20. Index
    (pp. 299-304)