Later On

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The Ludlow Massacre: Free-market capitalism in action

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Fascinating book review in the New Yorker. A few snippets:

… Oddly, in a phenomenon that Andrews calls “the paradox of coal,” one of the few things unchanged by the fossil-fuel revolution was the way that fuel itself was mined. First, a worker undermined a chunk of coal by chipping away at the foot of it with his pick, creating a gap called a kerf. Then he drilled holes, filled them with explosives, and detonated. Finally, he loaded the coal loosened by the blast onto a car. Except for the explosives, the only energy deployed was the miner’s own. An attempt at mechanization, in 1881, failed; the machines kept breaking down and miners hated them so much that they deserted. For decades, companies simply hired more men. Coal made this easy to do, because it had boosted population and efficiency—so that everywhere there were more people and less work—and had also made travel cheaper than ever before. By the eighteen-nineties, three or four thousand tons of coal could push a steamer across the Atlantic in just six days, and a ticket aboard cost only thirty dollars. Between 1870 and 1910, the non-indigenous population of Colorado grew twentyfold. Unskilled workers from Italy, Greece, Japan, the doddering Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Spanish-speaking New Mexico were hired for their muscles and their willingness to risk their lives. As an individual, a miner was expendable, and, to prevent unionizing, mine operators kept their workforce polyglot. In some Colorado counties, democracy was nearly vestigial. Industrialization was gradually reproducing the conditions of feudalism…

… Miners feared the company’s power. Those who criticized the company were often sent “down the canyon” (blacklisted) or “kangarooed” (beaten up). On Election Day, the company supervised voting, and when the Republican Party needed a victory one sheriff obliged by counting as voters the heads of passing sheep. “I am king of this county,” he once boasted. Whenever a miner died in an accident, the undersheriff asked the mine superintendent whom to put on the coroner’s jury. In the decade leading up to the Ludlow massacre, just one mining fatality in Huerfano County was blamed on management, leaving payments to widows and orphans in the other eighty-nine cases to the company’s discretion…

… In 1907, to stanch C.F. & I.’s losses, Rockefeller assigned it a minder. LaMont M. Bowers was old school; he scorned “muckrakers, labor disturbers and the milk and water preachers and professors.” Upon arrival in Colorado, he shortened lunch breaks in the office, pruned the Sociological Department until miners’ living standards fell, and even reduced bribes to politicians. The company turned profitable. In 1910, when an explosion killed seventy-nine miners and the Colorado Bureau of Labor Statistics accused C.F. & I. of “cold-blooded barbarism” in its neglect of safety measures, Bowers assured his superiors in New York that the miners would soon “get over the excitement.” In reply, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to whom his aging father was ceding control, merely asked why C.F. & I. wasn’t growing faster. The younger Rockefeller had recently resigned from the board of Standard Oil to devote his energy to philanthropy. He was particularly concerned about fallen women…

… Once the National Guard was deployed, its general claimed the power of martial law, holding prisoners incommunicado, setting up a military commission to review detentions, and threatening to jail a local district attorney if he interfered. According to Papanikolas, one union organizer took advantage of his indefinite incarceration to read “The Pickwick Papers,” “The Three Musketeers,” and “Les Misérables.” Mother Jones took advantage of hers to win publicity, and, when a thousand women protested her detention by marching through the city of Trinidad, the general, who in peacetime served Denver as an ophthalmologist, panicked. On horseback, he kicked a sixteen-year-old girl; then he fell off his mount and in revenge cried out, “Ride down the women!”—an order that led his cavalry to slash with sabres at a square full of women. One was cut on the face, another on her hands, and a third had an ear partly severed…

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2009 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Government

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