Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day: The Ludlow Massacre

Ludlow Massacre Memorial
This year, for Labor Day, a prose poem about a visit to the Ludlow Massacre Memorial sometime in the mid-noughties. The memorial is in southern Colorado, near Trinidad, a couple of miles off Route 25.

As you're turning off the highway, you can see the plains stretch out for hundreds of miles to the east (far out beyond the horizon, there's a memorial to another massacre: The Sand Creek Massacre). To get to the Ludlow site, you head west on a small road that takes you to a fenced-in enclosure. When I was there, the statue had been vandalized - the granite faces of the man, woman and child had been smashed off.

Ruins of Ludlow tent colony after massacre, 1914
The faceless statues were an appropriate symbol for the trials of labor over the last century and into this century. Since the Reagan era, the union movement and labor rights have been culturally demeaned and systematically taken apart. Workers are, for the most part, faceless in this economy...

At the Ludlow Massacre Memorial


No sound but wind through the trees that surround the small, fenced-in memorial. Vandals have come and gone. They broke off the hands and faces of the stone figures – a man (apparently, a miner) and a woman (apparently, a miner's wife), holding a child. She is holding the child close.


April 20, 1914: four women and eleven children hid in a pit beneath a tent when the National Guard raked the striking miner’s camp with machine gun fire. The National Guard eventually lit the camp on fire. Two of the women and all of the children suffocated to death in the pit.


The men who fired on the camp were working for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, owned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. They are always the same men, aren’t they? No matter the year, the place. They need direction from above. “Father, who shall I kill?” 50 years before Ludlow, these men killed and mutilated the bodies of over 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho, about 100 miles east of here, at Sand Creek. One soldier wore a woman’s vulva on his hat as he rode triumphantly back into Denver.


John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was a philanthropist. “Philanthropist: a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.”


Bored teenagers probably tore the original stone faces off the monument sculptures. But Rockefeller, Jr. can’t be blamed if the kids these days have no respect for anything, treat everything as if it’s a commodity to be used, then tossed, can he? Rockefeller’s a ghost, ethereal, slipping and sliding around numbers in the NASDAQ. He has become brilliant, pure, above matter. Not far off, a truck passes on I-25, transporting cattle, lumber, milk, natural gas, pigs, coal…


The attack on the miner’s strike camp was launched while the inhabitants were attending a funeral for several infants. A few years ago, in Pakistan, a hellfire missile was fired into the funeral for hellfire missile victims. The one who ordered that missile strike is not the same as the men who opened fire on the Ludlow camp, not the same as the man who wore the vulva on his hat after the massacre at Sand Creek. The one who ordered the missile strike was pure thought, like Rockefeller’s ghost, working in a realm above this one.


Bodiless shadows cross and re-cross the continent, pure as numbers, attached to nothing. They slip in an out of streams, mountains, cows; slide into and out of the earth; wander seams of coal, shale, tapping, measuring. Driving down I-25 in the middle of the night, I can sometimes sense them. I pull to the shoulder, scan the darkness. They always appear at the corner of the eye. When I turn my head to look at them straight on, they instantly disappear.

Ludlow Strikers/Families

(previously published in The Bitter Oleander)


Has much changed since the massacre? Well, workers are no longer being massacred in this country anymore. There's no need. Quite a bit of significant work has been outsourced to other countries in the last forty years, to countries that have no problem assassinating labor leaders or murdering those who demand their rights or a living wage. So, yes, murder no longer takes place in the US. It has been outsourced.

The only power workers have is in solidarity, in joining together, and forming a union. But, because of the corporate and government assaults on labor rights, the percentage of wage and salary workers who are members of union dropped to 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage points from 2015. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data was available, union membership rate was at 20.1 percent. (US Department of Labor

St. Louis workers rally against preemption law
Across the US, Republican-controlled state legislatures have repeatedly struck down local government efforts to improve the working conditions of their residents. Just last week the minimum wage in St. Louis was lowered from $10 per hour back down to $7.70 per hour because of a preemption law passed in Missouri. Preemption laws allow state governments to supersede any city or county laws the state does not agree with. (How St. Louis Workers Won and then Lost a Minimum Wage Hike - The Atlantic)

And this is still happening - from Maria Flores, a grape worker in California (found on the United Farm Workers Site):

“Every summer, it gets very hot. Sometimes I have felt weak, dizzy, nauseous, even been afraid I would faint. The growers pressure us to work harder, faster and they discourage us from taking our shade breaks or drinking water. On some occasions, the foremen have not provided water for hours. When the union is around they are sure to meet all the legal requirements. When the organizers are not there, not so much. It gives me a new appreciation for the UFW. The UFW makes them follow the law.

And Metodio Cantoriano, on pesticides sprayed while working: “During the pruning season of this year, my [grown] children and I were working like any normal day. One of my sons told me on the next field they are spraying pesticides. We confirmed it was true because of the strong odor surrounding us...I went to speak with the foreman about the spraying in the next field, and he told me that nothing will happen to us. I insisted that he should move us to another field because of the toxic pesticides that are being sprayed. The foreman then told us that if we can’t stand the odor then we should go home because he is not going to move us to another field...I felt sad because he showed us that he does not care about us or our health.”



Research & Ideas for Shared Prosperity

Nursing home workers, Illinois, 2017

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