Ludlow massacre spurred New Deal labor reforms

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 18, 2014 at 8:25 am •  Published: April 18, 2014

DENVER (AP) — A century ago this Sunday, 11 children and two women died in a fire that followed a shootout between the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners at a tent camp in southern Colorado.

What became known as the Ludlow Massacre quickly evolved into a national rallying cry for labor unions and eventually helped lead to New Deal labor reforms. But over the years, the tragedy has been largely forgotten, even among many in Colorado.

To mark the centennial, a Greek Orthodox Easter service will be held Sunday on the prairie where the women and children died on April 20, 1914. They had hidden in a dugout beneath the tent colony when the fire roared through the camp. The miners came from many countries; mining rules were posted in 27 languages. But most had joined fellow Greek strikers in celebrating Orthodox Easter the day before.

The United Mine Workers of America plans a May memorial at the site about three hours south of Denver with descendants of labor activist Mother Jones, who was jailed twice for refusing to stay away from the strike zone.

The deaths at Ludlow came during a strike launched in September 1913 by miners whose living conditions were largely controlled by Colorado Fuel & Iron, owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

They lived in company towns, sometimes surrounded by barbed wire. They had to shop in company stores and be treated by company doctors. They wanted the right to form a union, have 8-hour days and be paid for work to make mines safer and not just for the coal they extracted.

Strikers also wanted enforcement of Colorado's mining laws. Colorado had one of the worst mining death rates in the country but only two mine inspectors. About 3,000 workers were killed between 1880 and 1910 mining the coal that fed railroads and heated people's homes.

In the absence of strong local government, mine owners largely controlled local affairs, said state historian Bill Convery.

No one knows who fired the first shot at Ludlow, where eight people— five strikers and one of their sons, a soldier and a bystander — were killed in addition to the 13 who died in the fire.

The battle ignited 10 days of fighting in southern Colorado. Miners, including veterans of European wars, killed 30 mine guards, supervisors and strikebreakers. They surrendered after President Woodrow Wilson sent federal troops to the state.

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