Re-interpreting Ludlow

Re-interpreting Ludlow

The Archaeology of Collective Action
by Dean J. Saitta
University Press of Florida, 2007 140 pages $24.95

Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and the Class War
in the American West
by Scott Martelle
Rutgers University Press, 2007 217 pages $25.95

Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War
by Thomas G. Andrews
Harvard University Press, 2008 376 pages $29.95

FOR ALL intents and purposes, the nation’s age of industrial violence ended with the Memorial Day massacre in South Chicago in 1937. During the previous fifty-year period, seven hundred deaths were recorded in industrial conflicts, though the actual body count was probably much higher. These grim facts mean that the United State experienced the bloodiest, most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world.

During the past seventy years fatalities from other forms of workplace violence have continued to be all too common—more than 28,000 dead from workplace injuries between 2002 and 2007. But because violent strikes and shootings have been rare in recent times, the living memory of bloody labor repression is dying, along with the generation of workers who fought the bitter battles of the 1930s. It is now up to labor historians, union educators, preservationists, anthropologists, and filmmakers to keep those memories alive.

Three writers have taken up this task in recently published books focused on the Ludlow massacre of 1914. The authors of these books have done more than preserve the memory of a particularly horrifying assault on working-class people; they have also advanced our understanding of what caused that lethal conflict and what its legacy means for us now.

The Ludlow massacre took place on April 20, 1914, in the midst of a massive coal miners’ strike against southern Colorado companies; the Rockefellers controlled the largest, Colorado Fuel and Iron. During this protracted struggle of a largely immigrant work force, company guards and hired guns were mustered into the National Guard. When these troopers fired on the strikers’ tent colony at Ludlow, many residents fled and took shelter in nearby arroyos. Some women and children hid in a well; others took refuge in underground pits the strikers had dug under the tents for protection. In the early hours of shooting, guardsmen assassinated a union organizer, a Greek immigrant named Louis Tikas, and two other strikers; they also killed two other union men and an eleven-year-old boy. Then they set fire to the tents. When the fires burned out, camp residents made the grim discovery—the bodies of two women and eleven children who had suffocated and died in one pit.

When the news of the assault on the tent colony got out, it sparked fury all through the strikers’ camps. Armed with 30-30 carbines (many supplied by the union), a small army of 1,000 strikers laun...