Collective Action in Ludlow


Ludlow Worker 1914 tent city, Colorado.

Sounds of heavy breathing, crunching leaves, and nervous murmurs filled the silence in between the rounds of gunshots echoing amongst the trees from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. guards, hired militiamen, and Colorado National Guard. The air was thick with soot, and down the hill the tents of the workers were illuminating the sky full of red and yellow ember against the vacant Colorado sky. “On April 20th militiamen destroyed the Ludlow Tent Colony killing five men and one boy with rifle and machine gun fire and firing on the tents with a torch”, where 11 women and children lost their lives, and three of the strikers were murdered in cold blood, including Louis Tikas, who was murdered by Lieutenant K.E. Linderfield.[1] Recovering from the colony being ransacked and mutilated by company agents and leveled by fire and bullets, the workers began to fight back. Moving through the trees swiftly, a team of rugged, and multiracial union miners began to descend upon another coal mining town in retaliation for the ruined colony growing smaller and smaller behind them.

The striking miners in the United Mine Workers of America, which instigated the series of strikes and political struggles to be able to organize collectively as a union, had continued to wage what began as a nonviolent struggle, into a war. This ‘class war’, as called by the capitalist demagogues, was waged against John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. Rockefeller, and those associated with him at the time, had a strict anti-unionist agenda, where they loathed any interruption of profit and production as well as conceding parts of the profit they believed they were entitled to. Rockefeller stands out amongst other capitalist during this time period for his wealth, status, and attitude towards his workers. This attitude, noted by a Congressional Commission and investigation, was more than just ambivalence, but an open-ended absolutist control of the workers autonomy to be able to organize politically as a collective.

The miners who battled the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. represented more than just striking laborers, as the Commission on Industrial Relations noted, “the Colorado strike must be considered as one manifestation of a world-wide movement of wage earners toward an extension of the principles of democracy to the work shop, the factory, and the mine.”[2] The conflict at Ludlow presented a burst of frustration and determination amidst a growing labor movement in the United States that would take the risk of demanding from their employers for more than just a living wage, they wanted to be recognized as equals in the workplace, as real human beings. Each actor in this dispute consciously identified strongly with their own interests, interests aggregated around a specific socio-economic status in relation to the means of production and decisions based on them. We see a variety of perspectives during this time period identifying the actual ‘class war’ taking place globally amongst laborers in every capitalist state during this time period. The question though is, what pushed the miners to take up arms?

Members of the Colorado National Guard entering the strike zone.

Members of the Colorado National Guard entering the strike district.

The polarization that occurred around Colorado could have only occurred with such a solidly organized, militant, and structured labor movement that was present in the early 20th century internationally. Ludlow fits itself within a larger trajectory of the labor history in the United States. It was a moment in U.S. history amongst other armed conflicts that follows the same narrative of conflicting tales of aggressors and victims that is propagated through various commentators. Presenting a growing will to materially combat their employer; this history appears foreign to many whom compare this event to the larger trajectory of what American labor relations has become. This conflict, between employed and the employer at Ludlow resulted in strong lines being drawn by both sides, where Rockefeller, both son and father, toed the line that Unions are damaging and adamantly supported the repression by any means necessary of the Miners attempting to unionize, where the workers would not settle for anything less.

In this essay I hope to suggest that this struggle was not inevitable, but came about because of the specific way that the economic model of capitalism divides labor amongst those who own the means of production and those who are forced to sell their labor to reproduce themselves. This, I believe, results in specific interests under capitalism becoming antagonistic due to capitalism’s compulsion of profit maximization ruling over the interests of laborers lacking both political and economic resources to challenge their employers. [3] The miners in seeing to organize had to overcome key constraints due to the material conditions at hand within the way the workplace was set up socially, economically, politically, and structurally in the mining town. These constraints of absolutist control over the workers in the economic, political, and social levels are what I believe lead to the violent tactics and methods employed by the Ludlow miners.


Primary Source Analysis: Capitalists Perspective

Reverend A. A. Berle is not a particularly glamorous character to be found within the historical texts of the Ludlow Massacre. More often a footnote rather than a chapter, the congregational minister represents one of the various commentators surrounding what occurred at Ludlow. A congregational minister ordained in New Richmond, Wisconsin, Berle went on to become a congregational minister in Boston briefly, and was a former professor of Applied Christianity at Tufts University. As an academic he wrote other books such as School in the Home, Christianity and Social Rage, and The World Significance of a Jewish State.[4] However, besides having a particular interest in education and religious lifestyles, he wrote a provocative reporting about the Ludlow Massacre’s, which aligns with Rockefeller’s view of the barbarous union. [5] Why a religious man concerned with the role of schooling in children’s lives, is interested in a conflict initiated by unionized colliers is certainly peculiar, but what is more interesting is the presentation that he sides with the industrial power players. In Berle’s The Colorado Mine War: Article III, we see a portrayal of what John Rockefeller Jr. first attempts to push forward as the facts on the ground through the Industrial Plan, to later be refuted by the U.S. government itself within the Commission reports.[6]

Berle’s essay first lays out the events that seem to be overlapping and possibly distracting our concerns surrounding domestic conflicts, where he states that the vast European War, World War I, appears to be distracting us from the literal war at home. He reports on the supposed on the ground events occurring with “civil government [being] broken down” much like the collapsing governments amongst the war torn states in Europe.[7] This could as well refer to the militant working class movements that were simultaneously erupting throughout the European continent, governments much like the Russian government, were beginning to dissolve due to social unrest. While he notes World War I had broken out at the height of the miners struggle, he emphasizes the worker’s pay of $14,000 semi-annually, and insinuating that the union representatives called the Union without the full workers consent. However, although his worry about social order appears to be limited to economics, it really begins to appear as much more of an appeal to xenophobia and the rising patriotism occurring at this time.

Within his report we begin to see what his internal views on what he perceives as just outcomes and the actual conditions of the miners begins to come out. While downplaying and depoliticizing the conditions of the mining town by comparing it to the industries of Massachusetts and the North, we begin to see where his actual fears lie. He expressed discomfort with migrant workers, which was based on his observation that, “miners are from the Balkan States and brought with them the civilization, ideas, and ideals of these States”, expressing this concern with xenophobic undertones. He references the experiences that the miners had that is foreign to American Capitalism, insinuating they were both brutes and malleable under the influence of the Union organizers.[8] In it he begins to play again on xenophobia, praying upon the possible readers fears that these foreign workers were presenting an invasion of radical elements.

Eric Foner, former president of the American Historical Association, points to feudal origins for motivation for combatting unfair positions within class. Foner, in “Why is there no Socialism in the Unite States” aptly points out that, “without a feudal tradition, and a sense of class oppression in the present, Americans are simply unable to think in class terms.”[9] This is quite interesting for both Foner and Berle identifying feudalism as the engine of conflict, where many European immigrants are familiar with a feudalistic class division, acknowledging class identification being a crux for everyday life. This also adds an interesting perspective on the historical narratives surrounding the strikers in Ludlow, for many of the origins of the strikers laid with predominantly pseudo-capitalist states within Europe that had recently gone through the transition into capitalism. This is both and enticing and interesting that Berle points to the workers feudalistic origins, for it shows that he acknowledges one important thing he is exceptionally frightened of, the workers seeing themselves as a class separate in its own interests from capitalists such as Rockefeller. As well, one can see in Berle’s account of Ludlow, that he falls into Foner’s theory, for while he acknowledges the odd character of these previous peasants ability to distinguish the differences between the economic models of feudalism and capitalism, he ignores the underlying theme of the workers disgust with the current conditions.

Berle also helped propagate a popular misconception as well amongst many contemporaries who analyze labor relations, and this mistake is that that, “it should be borne in mind, from the very outset, that, in trying to understand the situation, the combatants are not one big and the other little. They are big balanced foes, and there is no sympathy to be wasted on either.” [10] This argument that Berle put’s forward, and the premise which is the basis of Rockefeller’s Industrial Plan, promotes the idea that both the union and the capitalist are battling on equal footing and have their interests both in the profit of the company. This can extend further to Rockefeller’s Industrial Plan’s “business unionism” that pushes forward the idea that both capitalists and unions should have it in their best interest to be ‘partners’ in this economic process and where the business helps propagate the union.[11] Rockefeller Jr. in his Industrial Plan states something quite similar to this ideology where he finds that if this:

relation between Labor and Capital is fundamentally one of antagonism, and that each should consolidate and arm its forces, dividing the products of industry between them in proportion as their selfishness is enforced by their power… but all such counsel loses sight of the fact that the riches available to man are practically without limit; that the world’s wealth is constantly being developed and undergoing mutation, and that to promote this process both Labor and Capital are dispensable.”[12]

This perspective sanitizes what had been occurring within the workers movement during this time period, where many unionists called for independent organization and treated their employers as advisories against the interests and health of the workers. The experience that these workers lived from day to day in actuality and not surprisingly contradicted Rockefeller’s account of a capitalists concern towards the laborer, for it is ultimately against their interests at the end of the day when it comes to profit maximization.

Louis Tikas Funeral Procession - Trinidad, Colorado April 1914

Louis Tikas Funeral Procession – Trinidad, Colorado April 1914

Primary Source: Commission Report

In United States Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the Colorado Strike (1915) by George West participates in the U.S.’ largest collection and analysis of the working people in the Industrial Workers Movement including analyzing big names including famous labor activists Bill Haywood and “Mother Jones”, as well as larger capitalists of the time period including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. These commission reports spanned from 1913-1915 and included differing industrial struggles, including the struggle at Ludlow, including the New York City garment workers strike, the Paterson silk milk strike, and the Illinois railroad strike. Within West’s analysis on the part of the U.S. Commission, he says that 9,000 coal miners participated in this strike, and one of the most shocking aspects of the commission report is the realization that the workers were justified in their open ended revolt against their employer given the conditions they had to bear. As West states in the report:

Nothing has come home with greater force in the course of the investigation of the Commission than the realization that men and women who are economically subservient cannot be politically free, that the forms of democracy and the guarantees of American institutions are hollow and meaningless in communities where many must depend on the favor of the few for the opportunity to obtain food, clothing, and shelter.[13]


This surprising progressive response by the commission report consisting of men and women of differing class backgrounds and skill sets represented a significant shift in the way that both the United States and industrial heads such as Rockefeller were pressured by these militant working class struggles because they impeded upon their direct interests. The commission surprisingly, although it was called because of the abysmal conditions the workers were working and living in, steered away from simply just viewing the miners as just victims in this struggle. The commission report goes to extensive lengths to identify the motivating engines behind the uprising as well showing that, “the use of political control to deny justice to injured workmen and the families of employees killed or maimed in accidents must be regarded as the most dastardly of all the unsocial and criminal practices that caused the strike.”[14] This significant push back on the part of the employers in conjunction with the conditions, had led to a large reaction amongst the colliers to begin collectively organizing to preserve their ability to reproduce themselves daily. The commission report begins to follows a narrative that, “the history of strikes shows that workmen on strike feel that they have a property interest in their jobs,” and because of this in conjuncture with the “abuse, ridicule, and violence”, of the hired thugs, we see the end result of the militiamen massacring those defending the Ludlow colony.

The U.S. commission report represents a turn within the larger trajectory of labor relations in the U.S. because it shows a not just a deep understanding of how and why these collective actions occur, but because it also shows the significant pressure for the U.S. government to understand the volatile labor relations from a ground level of its own country. As described in Ellen Wood’s Origin of Capitalism, that when you attempt to de-skill workers and take away their autonomy due to the compulsion of capitalism constantly maximizing profit and dividing labor accordingly.[15] We see the example of this with the steady divisions amongst the colliers from its industrial embryo with America’s king coal William Palmer, pointing out that mine work, besides being incredibly dangerous and toxic, “seemed to turn boys into drones, women into men, and manly labors into ‘an inferior class of beings’.”[16] However, once we see a union come into the picture, even amongst the foremen they begin to notice a larger cohesion and attentiveness amongst the workers, shifting from being the restless and inferior beings, to being active agents of their own workplace and actively taking back the autonomy robbed from them in the initial labor process.


Rubble of Ludlow Tent Colony

Structures: The Conditions

Mining work is a career that has few benefits and thousands of risks. Constantly being at risk of noxious fumes, accidental explosions, and immanent death, mining work produces an atmosphere of workers relying heavily on each other. In Thomas Andrew’s Killing for Coal, he illustrates for us that mining work resembled much of what one would describe as an underground office. Having separate compartments and areas from which the collier moves with a partner about, they are required to pick and detonate coal within this small, confined, and dark spaces. This environment produced both a material fear and cohesion amongst the miners, who share their work, sleep, homes, and community space with each other back in the town. The risks that these miners participated in on a day-to-day basis created bonds that during this time period of high racialization and strengthening patriotism stood out amongst workers of other industrial sections of the bonds that were produced through mine work amongst very different ethnic and racial lines.

Mine companies were notorious for recruiting and importing workers from all sections of the United States, running a similar theme of having a highly diverse grouping of, “immigrants from Mexico, Italy, Greece, and Eastern Europe joined African American and Mexican American workers in the wild and chaotic world of the coal camps”.[17] The unruly bunch of listless workers, as described by Thomas, were hardened by past experience they had lived through with memories of past struggles as well as scars on their battered bodies showed. It is noted that the actual organizational structure of the union while combatting the militiamen, mining guards, and hired spies, that they drew upon a rich amount of military experience from the miners past. Many of the men participated in military combat, were the militiamen and National Guard noted that the guerilla tactics of the miners represented a military campaign often waged by the Greeks during their nationalistic revolutions earlier in the 19th century.[18] As well, many of the workers were recent migrants from countries that had national building campaigns, where nation lines were drawn across new boarders, as well as strong workers movements where they saw the mass transformation of predominately peasant societies to a much more capitalist oriented structure. These structures came about with no easy task, but the mass de-skilling of labor, de-skilling in the sense of removing the workers ability to subsist on his own with re-appropriation or loss of land to be able to till for their own consumption as well as a lack of autonomy with the work week’s schedule. Feudal societies prior to capitalism, where Greek and Italian recent émigrés would remember, were able to decide their own workweeks, create their own tools, and did not have to rely on the increasingly risky market that surrounded them. This as well assisted these workers with conceptualizing an alternative against what was becoming more and more despotic for them not being recognized as a person, and more along the lines as “brutes” and “drones” to the work schedule and toiling hours within risky conditions.[19]

Ludlow Coal Mine

Ludlow Coal Mine

Within the town, we saw workers being purposely segregated by the arbitrary lines of race, which became increasingly confusing with the larger influx of all sorts of migrants. African American’s were denied specific privileges as customary throughout the United States, where racial hierarchies were put in strictly in place as Montoya notes, where they were denied the right to the bathhouses and lacked significant privileges compared to other workers.[20] This put forward an interesting predicament for many of the incoming migrants however, for many did not fit into the specific black and white hierarchies that usually ruled the United States quite strictly. This hierarchy helped accentuate other aspects of the mining area the workers lacked control over much of the resources and activities and their ability to participate in democratizing processes, as well as providing a significant barrier that was essential to cross for the labor organizers at the time.

Ruins of Ludlow post Militia/National Guard attack

Ruins of Ludlow post Militia/National Guard attack

Autonomy Lost: Surveillance of Miners

The mining towns produced a serious lack of freedom throughout the town not simply surrounding the layout of the community, but as well the watchful eyes of the community. The mining town, carefully constructed by the company, had very similar layouts across Colorado. Ludlow, accompanying these towns, followed the similar patterns of small replicated homes to which the workers did not have direct ownership over. This was not the only intrusion the company had on the private lives of these workers. The public space where many of the workers would spend their time was under constant surveillance of mine operators, company guards, and hired Baldwin-Felts agents were safety was often in question for those daring to organize.[21]

Ludlow Militia//National Guard

Ludlow Militia//National Guard

This apparatus of surveillance was a constant presence amongst the miners, constantly causing skirmishes between organizers and hired agents from the company trying to divide up any effort towards unionization. The town did not have any symbol or particular building set aside for political meetings or any democratic process. Workers knew this well, and realized that the company did not leave room for the workers to have a say within the labor that defined their lives. This serious lack of autonomy has been present throughout mining structures, and was important for mining companies to instill, for the company demanded absolute discipline amongst the division of labor in the mines. The companies’ interests were not within the workers being able to enjoyably reproduce themselves, but in contrast, it was mostly in the interests of being able to garner profits. This conflict of interests rationalized the surveillance apparatus put in place by the company and instilled a animosity already towards the company, it’s guards, and agents for it’s lack of interests in the workers being able to have both free and autonomous lives. Instead the company put in place a constant eye on the workers to make sure they where living their lives on the companies schedule both in the workplace and their private lives.

Often glossed over in this history are the sinister origins to why this surveillance was present during this time period over the workers. It was common practice for companies, such as Rockefeller Jr.’s Colorado Fuel & Co., to have various forms of surveillance from the sheriffs and guards located throughout the mining town to the Baldwin-Felts detectives constantly intimidating organizers. The origins of these private detective agencies and these privately hired sheriffs lies in the historical moment that Ludlow existed in, h in Alfred W. McCoy’s Policing America’s Empire while describing the development of the United States’ surveillance state from the colonization process of the Philippines in 1898, alludes to the U.S.’s policing and surveillance methods prior to the 20th where:

“For most of the Gilded Age Washington left policing to the cities and private detectives. When the Justice Department was first established in 1870, Congress denied it an enforcement arm but allocated funds for investigations the attorney general used to hire the Pinkerton Agency’s private detectives.”[22]

This led to a large influx of these security firms including Burns, Pinkerton, Theil, and Baldwin-Felts where they “grew by the end of the “golden age of private detective work” in 1920 to a combined total of 135,000 employees and 10,000 local offices”. Throughout this time period, the United States was colonizing the Philippines learning a various amount of tactics in counterinsurgency and intelligence gathering that appeared to lead too much of those tactics being re-imported into the United States. These tactics experimented on the Filipinos by American Intelligence officers where decades ahead of their time. In the Philippines McCoy describes that the,

“Americans were forced to develop techniques for which there were no names: psychological profiling before warfare was a military doctrine. In an American republic with a tradition of local influence the nature of metropolitan policing as it had the United Kingdom. Instead, it transformed Washington’s nascent national security apparatus,” [23] 

helping shed light to the tactics that were used to suppress American radicals in the twentieth century, such as Eugene Debs in 1917 being arrested and removed from the workers movement physically as well as the Coal Wars in West Virginia. The connections between the former U.S. military personnel and these private detective agencies is documented quite well were U.S. senior members in the military used similar tactics of the Philippines to crush radicals in the revolting coalfields in West Virginia. This being said, the surveillance tactics employed by these detective agencies during this time period were advancing to the point where the U.S.’s technology and ability to gather information was being spread throughout authorities across the country as well as assembling a colonial state at an impressive speed. These tactics, quite valuable to those looking for law enforcement expertise such as Rockefellers’ company, found their way through the connection that has existed for quite some time between private detective agencies and veterans of the colonization process of the Philippines.

United Mine Workers of America strikers during Ludlow strike, caption says: ARMED STRIKERS IN THE TRINIDAD DISTRICT IN COLORADO Source: The Survey, Volume 33, By Survey Associates, Charity Organization Society of the City of New York, published 1915, page 245

United Mine Workers of America strikers during Ludlow strike, caption says: ARMED STRIKERS IN THE TRINIDAD DISTRICT IN COLORADO
Source: The Survey, Volume 33, By Survey Associates, Charity Organization Society of the City of New York, published 1915, page 245


The workers in Ludlow in their specific position had serious constraints upon their organizing that led to this conflict. The United Mine Workers, a 400,000-member union, was having incredible difficulty organizing in secret throughout 1913. With constant surveillance and lack of funds, the Union struggled for years amongst workers who were although willing to fight back, acknowledged the risks that came with striking. This was not the first time these workers would strike against Rockefellers CF&I. Prior to 1913 Colorado had seen a serious of strikes amongst the mining towns since 1894 demanding the right to organize. These strikes, although varying with success, helped the migrants within Colorado to begin and demand for an expansion of rights. These strikes helped lay the groundwork for much of the organizing that the United Mine Workers had to do, for the workers in the area have already participated in conflict and strife against their employers. However, although these strikes laid the groundwork, they did not initiate the spark that led to the Ludlow strike to be called September 25, 1913. The initial spark that is agreed upon was the heightening violence and then the murder of Gerald Lippiat (a union organizer) who was shot down in an argument with the Baldwin-Felts detective George Belcher. Causing riots and mass commotion, it was, “reported to Governor Ammons that Trinidad was filled with armed guards and detectives, that one of the company’s detectives had shot and killed an organizer on the street, and that unless something were done at once, an outbreak was inevitable”.[24]This in the end resulted in the workers calling a convention to call a strike for September 25, 1913, where it resulted in 8,000 to 10,000 miners packing all of their belongings and moving to an official tent colony set up for the striking workers. The stated reasons to which the Miners state that they were striking are as follows:

  1. “Ignorance of the owners of the great coal producing properties concerning actual conditions under which their employees live and labor.

  2. The lack of any proper sense of personal responsibility on the part of those owners, for what is wrong in those conditions.

  3. The maintenance by the coal mining operators of a modern system of monopolistic feudalism, with many of the evil features of the old feudalism, but without many of those features which made it somewhat beneficent.

  4. The insistence by the operators upon their right to conduct a cast a vast coal-producing business, – a business in reality affected with a public interest, – regardless of how their conduct may affect society at large, and as if it were a small private business.

  5. The unwillingness on the part of the operators to concede to their employees the right of effective organization, while themselves maintaining a complete combination and organization.” [25]

These demands however were ultimately ignored by Rockefeller’s refusal to make any concessions to the striking workers, and in turn approved for importing of 326 armed guards. Violence began to break out with the colony taking out all who they felt were scabs in an almost military fashion. The strikers ended up attacking what they initially thought was an armored train, where they ended up killing the engineer and sending the train back. As well as on October 27 there was another campaign and shoot out to take down the power grid and mine buildings where the guards resided. However, after months of striking and living amongst the tent colony, the company was building up its reserves of private detectives, militiamen, and eventually the National Guard. Governor Ammons ended up stationing the National Guard initially under the pretense for the “protection to all property” and all men who attempted to break the strike.[26] These motives of prioritizing property over life, ended up resulting in what the Commission report described as:

by April 20th the Colorado National Guard no longer offered even a pretense of fairness or impartiality, and its units in the field had degenerated into a force of professional gunmen and adventurers who were economically dependent on the subservient to the will of the coal operators. [27]


Ludlow Strikers

Ludlow Strikers

This description helps shed light that many of the officers in fact had an intense hatred of many other officers that “did not lack the courage and belligerent spirits required to provoke hostilities” to the limited armed forces of the strikes consisting of thirty men.[28] Due to these prevailing attitudes surrounding the National Guard and Militiamen, as well as the skirmishes instigated by the companies cronies, ended and resulted in what would become known as the Ludlow Massacre.

April 20th, the militiamen destroyed the Ludlow Tent Colony, leading both an armed assault and scorched earth campaign across the colony. With flames blazing and repeater rifles sounding off across the colony, five men and one boy were gunned down while 11 women and children where killed in the tent fires where they were suffocated while trying to avoid the conflict. This massacre was tragic and brutal, resulting in the death of only one militiaman. This destructive massacre against the strikers instigated a mass call amongst multiple unions to arm the strikers for what became a sustained guerilla war against the Colorado Fuel & Co. for the next ten days after the Massacre. The United Mine Workers ended up distributing ammunition to 1,000 strikers who then led a campaign across the mines in the area, where they would in military fashion, led by former soldiers amongst their ranks, led a campaign of destroying the mines property as well as killing or driving the guards of the property. This campaign was intriguing, for the National Guard as well as the hired militiamen noted that the miners not only known the land around them inside and out, but were fighting better than most of the soldier sent to disperse them. Using guerilla tactics known amongst the demographics, they predominately relied on guerilla tactics of appearing and disappearing throughout the hills and forests and into the mines taking out all that stood in their way or driving them off the land. This campaign resulting in the death of up to a 100 of those who participated in the event was led to a close when Wilson sent in Federal troops to disarm both parties. Eventually the strike was called off on December 10, 1914 not due to the workers lack of morale but more along the lines that all funds and resources had run out after almost a year of striking. The entire country was astounded by what had occurred within the Colorado mine fields, as well as the United States government, which ended up leading to a larger investigation to what actually occurred during Ludlow. As the commission wrapped up, it appeared that the commission had understood why the “inflames strikers” retaliated to the open-ended “slaughter of their women, children, and comrades”.[29]

Tent Colony

Tent Colony

Structures: Abstract

As the United States concluded to understanding the miners retaliation and violent actions against the CF&I, one still would want to get to the heart to how exactly the miners were able to organize under these conditions and what led them to lead such a campaign. This, usually reasoned through where we saw the U.S. and other commentators recognize that the conditions that the miners lived in pushed them towards organizing. However, this ignores the poor conditions that where present throughout all the United States at the time, where only specific industries were able to lead such engulfing strikes. To understand the imperatives and decisions that drove towards this collective organization one must look at the economic structures to which they are fighting for emancipation in. The colliers, while organizing, had to overcome two key constraints due to the conditions that were present at the workplace under capitalism and how it is set up socially, economically, and politically. The miners first had to overcome the difficulty of aggregating the workers together to create a collective demand, where after years of striking campaigns since 1894 and attempts of organizing we see the demands materialize at the colliers strike conference. Secondly the workers were constrained by the lack of resources had amongst miners, whom much did not even own the houses in which they lived, where these constraints ultimately led to the end of the strike due to the lack of resources available to the United Mine Workers. These constraints, functioning at a high level of abstraction, are appropriately exemplified within Clause Offe and Helmut Wiesenthal’s Two Logics of Collective Action: Theoretical Notes on Social Class and Organizational Form.

In Two Logics, Offe and Wiesenthal map out the terrain of aggregate interests and decision-making under capitalism with these constraints functioning, where they are seen actively combatting Rockefeller’s pluralist conception of labor relations. To Offe and Wiesenthal, “the work can only be done by the workers although their labor legally ‘belongs’ to the capitalists” were “in order to succeed in accomplishing stated interests, an organization must be able to mobilize sanctions” on the enacting the said group with power.[30] What Offe and Wiesenthal are mapping out here is the political and economic terrain that we often see within labor relations. Their point is powerful, for it hits a nerve in labor relations, where before giving consideration to your own interests and your class interests, you always have to keep the capitalists interests and the flow of capital in mind. This results with an imbalance from the start of any labor conflict, for only one class has to fight for its rights, abilities, and wage. This results in the rationalization of aggregating around interests for workers, where they have to overcome the constraints of convincing other worker to participate in the risk of enacting a sanction upon their employee as well as aggregating resources to be able to carry this actual conflict on. Offe and Wiesenthal view this as the function in the labor process that leads to “class formation” as an identity, where workers actively identify with their class and the interests surrounding that. This appears to result in the late 19th and early 20th century as an active push amongst workers to collectively organize, for their reality proved that they would not be on equal footing unless they fought for what they wanted in a manner that makes the employer concede to them.

This tactic was not a new development amongst unions, what the United Mine Workers of America did with the colliers in Colorado was how most Unions at the time organized collectively. This method of organizing was through implanting and agitating miners broadly amongst similar interests and initiating large strike waves any way they could. What makes their union stand out, was that it differentiated itself from other organizations for “its ability to generate the members’ ‘willingness to pay’, whereas the other depends, in addition on its ability to generate its members ‘willingness to act’.”[31] Offe and Wiesenthal point out, that if a union is going to want to be able to put upon sanctions and gain a victory for it’s aggregated interests, they are going to have to structure an organization that can not only accommodate it’s members financial constraints, but as well train it’s members politically to have a general willingness to act around their class identity, especially when facing such issues as the free riders dilemma. Essentially, the union has to produce a sense of solidarity, as well as identification with the member’s class to be able to function politically and gain momentum, and this is exactly what the United Mine Workers of America did during the strike of Ludlow overcoming racial barriers, economic constraints, and sheer brutality instigated by both the state government and the company itself.


What occurred in Ludlow was not a deviation amongst labor relations, but simply among the height of class conflict in the United States. Placing itself amongst the larger movements of the mine wars that ripped across the country as well as the enormous strike waves that occurred within the first few months prior to the U.S. emergence in WWI is an often forgotten history, as well as an ultimately misunderstood one. The violence these workers were using was not the goal of these strikes, but simply a tactic to which they felt the pressure and confidence to carry out, where it became a literal ‘class war’ with two sides drawn by enemy lines created by socio-economic relations. These sides however were not drawn initially with the strike but with the origins in the economic system that gives birth to these positions.

As Montoya notes, the paternalistic nature of these companies was an accentuated version of labor relations at the time, resulting in often volatile relations between employer and employee because of the utter lack of control over their own lives, were Montoya channels Van Kleek’s sentiment that is appropriate with contextualizing the reasoning behind this violence which is “Who would not earnestly seek to gain recognition of his manhood and the right to be heard and treated as a human being, not as a machine!”.[32] The structures of capitalism led to this ability to collectively organize, but as the miners realized, there is limitations in collectively organizing, where the law would not remain on their side. When facing these relations, the labor movement throughout history constantly runs up against these constraints, as well as the constraints that lay bear on the political economy because of the labor processes in it’s entirety. This results in these collective organizations having bursts of confidence to ask for more, to demand the undemand-able, and to carry on past simply the question of wages is what the labor movement in the United States has often hit itself against due to the discombobulated nature of class consciousness’s and the sheer power of the capitalist class in the United States. However, moments like Ludlow show through organizing and gaining the “willingness” to make these demands, we see snippets of how labor can provide and fight for an alternative even against even the most grueling odds. Ultimately Ludlow lost the battle, however, with shedding light to the true character of labor relations in the United States, they helped gain a victory for the war they perceived to be a class war, pushing capitalists in the United States to slowly allow the ability of collective action to occur and inspiring workers around the world.


[1] West, George P. United States Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the Colorado Strike. Washington, D.C.: Barnard & Miller Print, 1915. Print.

[2] West, George P. United States Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the Colorado Strike. Washington, D.C.: Barnard & Miller Print, 1915. Print. PP. 6-7

[3] Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, (Monthly Review, 1974), pp. 1-175

[4] Berle, A. A. The School in the Home; Talks with Parents and Teachers on Intensive Child Training,. New York: Moffat, Yard and, 1912. Print./ Berle, A. A. Christianity and the Social Rage,. New York: McBride, Nast &, 1914. Print./ Berle, A. A. The World Significance of a Jewish State,. New York: M. Kennerley, 1918. Print.

[5] “Beacon Street Diary.” ‘Beacon Street Diary’ N.p., n.d. Web., Only Bibliographic information on the elusive man.

[6] Rockefeller, John D. The Colorado Industrial Plan,. New York: Author, 1916. Print.

[7] The Colorado Mine War: Article 111 by the Reverend A.A. Berle, Cambridge, Mass.


[8] Ibid.

[9] Foner, Eric. “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States.” History Workshop Journal Spring 17 (1984): 62. Print.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rockefeller, John D. The Colorado Industrial Plan,. New York: Author, 1916. Print.

[12] Ibid. p.9

[13] West, George P. United States Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the Colorado Strike. Washington, D.C.: Barnard & Miller Print, 1915. Print. P.13


[14] Ibid.

[15] Wood, Ellen Meiksins. The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View. London: Verso, 2002. Print.

[16] Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. Print. p.25.


[17] Montoya, Maria E. “Creating an American Home: Contest and Accommodation in Rockefeller’s Company Towns.” (n.d.): p.19. Print.


[18] Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. Print.

[19] Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. Print.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] McCoy, Alfred W. Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 2009. Print. p.28


[23] Ibid. p.34

[24] West, George P. United States Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the Colorado Strike. Washington, D.C.: Barnard & Miller Print, 1915. Print. p.28.

[25] Ibid 33

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Offe, Claus, and Helmut Wiesenthal. “Two Logics of Collective Action.” Political Power and Social Theory 1 (1980): 67-115. Print.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Montoya, Maria E. “Creating an American Home: Contest and Accommodation in Rockefeller’s Company Towns.” (n.d.): Print.



–       Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2008. Print.

–       Berle, A. A. The Colorado Mine War, Boston?: n.p., 1914. Print.

o   “Beacon Street Diary.” ‘Beacon Street Diary’ N.p., n.d. Web., Only Bibliographic information on the elusive man.

–       Foner, Eric. “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States.” History Workshop Journal Spring 17 (1984): 62. Print.

–       Martelle, Scott. Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2007. Print.

–       McCoy, Alfred W. Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 2009. Print.

About bolshevikpunk

Mainline Marxism or Die. Activist, Student, and Degenerate.
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