Many people around the world watched in grief, awe and relief as 33 Chilean miners were recently rescued from the 2 month ordeal of being buried alive. It seemed incomprehensible that in this day, with all of the technology at our fingertips, such a tragedy could still occur. Yet, mining was and still is one of the most dangerous and poorly paid jobs in the world. While underground mining fatalities continue to climb, affecting an average of over 47 people per 100,000, near-ground level miners’ fatalities remain roughly the same. For them it’s just an average of 16 fatalities per 100,000. However this is of course still too many!
On the fateful day of April 20, 1914, in Ludlow, Colorado, 19 women and children were killed in a bloody massacre. This infamous day was the most violent labor dispute in recorded U.S. history. Ultimately, the total death toll was as high as 199, according to John D. Rockefeller Jr. There were 400 arrests, not including the few National Guard members who were court martialed. However, none of those in the National Guard were convicted of the murders.
The whole ordeal began because miners were fed up with the meager wages, the deadly working conditions, and the oppressive living conditions they were forced to endure. The major coal companies that owned the mining industry at the time also owned real estate – whole towns even – and that included the homes of the miners. It wasn’t possible for the miners to protest or even bring up concerns or complaints about the harsh living conditions with their superiors, as the superiors could easily fire them and take away all that they owned. A no-win situation began brew in which the miners were paid only for the tonnage of coal mined, making them risk their lives to get bigger amounts of coal just to feed their families.
The day after Easter the militia descended upon the colony, who had begun to strike. They set up their machine guns and began to indiscriminately take aim at the colony. The colony returned fire. By the end of the day, many in the colony would lie dead. A fair number were able to escape, as a train passed by and momentarily stopped to shield the miners and their families. Unfortunately, however, there were women and children trapped underground as the camp blazed overhead, 13 of whom suffocated and were burned alive.
No one cared about these impoverished and silenced souls of Ludlow. They were meaningless bodies that carried the fortunes of businessmen on their breaking backs. Whether or not they had enough shelter, food or money to care for their families was not deemed important. The greed of the businessmen who were the slave drivers was too great a power. Referred as “scabs” by the businessmen and union, these miners and their families only wanted fair wages. Violence had not been their ultimate plan. The sickening actions of the militia in trapping the striking miners and their families in the raging inferno was described by many as criminal.
Take a good look at the people above. The miners were not only passive victims of a mass murder after a labor dispute that spiraled out of control; they also actively tried to save the children who were burnt to death.
Though labor unions have vastly improved the quality of living for laborers and miners over the past decades, unnecessary deaths still occur and poor living conditions still exist around the world today.