Author Archives: Louis Galdieri

Foreign Agitators!

ouragitatorA hundred years ago yesterday, on December 10th, 1913, the operators of the Calumet and Hecla Mine and members of the Citizens Alliance announced that all representatives of organized labor from outside the state had just “twenty four hours to leave. If they fail to do so they will be sent out of the district in a manner most convenient and effective.”

This wasn’t an idle threat. 

Just days before, on December 7th, three men had been shot and killed at a boarding house in Painesdale. A thirteen-year-old girl was wounded in the melee. Kenneth Nicholson, who was four years old at the time and would later write an account of the shooting, called the Painesdale murders an “act of terrorism, brought on by an ongoing strike at that time.” It only “succeeded,” he went on to say, “in losing for the strikers whatever public support they might have had.”

Most of the blame for the violence of the strike and all the trouble in Calumet did not, however, fall on the striking miners, but on the outsiders who had stirred them up. A headline in the Mining Gazette on December 8th demanded that “foreign agitators” be “driven from the district at once.” The specter of “foreign” agitation – “fiery speakers” and “oily-tongued orators” who “goaded” the miners to strike — loomed large over the range. At a Citizens Alliance meeting, A. E. Petermann put it this way:

Six months ago people of the copper country of Michigan would have been proud to say in the outside world, I am from the copper country of Michigan. We had a happy community. There were no murders, no disorder, no lawlessness. See what has happened in four months? It has been brought about by whom? By men who have been hired to come here and spread their poisonous slime.

The Western Federation’s Charles Moyer – who just days after the Italian Hall disaster would himself be subject to convenient and effective removal, shot through the arm and hustled on to a Chicago-bound train – was clearly aware public opinion in Calumet had turned against him and other outside organizers. He telegrammed his alarm to the American Federation of Labor. AFL officials brought the telegram to President Wilson’s attention, “so the constitutional right of the labor representatives may be protected.”

On the Copper Range, Judge O’Brien granted a writ of injunction, “restraining members of the Citizens Alliance from interfering with or molesting, by threats or intimidation,” members of the Western Federation of Miners. “Stop and think,” Petermann urged members of the Citizens Alliance. “You can’t afford to have any blood on your hands.”

Five months into the strike, the hope remained that if troublemakers from outside the district could just be sent packing, people would have a chance to settle down. “Wise counsel is prevailing,” wrote a local newspaper editor, as late as December 20th; “conservative citizens are playing a major part toward bringing the struggle to an end.” If people could just come together without outside interference, went this line of popular argument, the community might recover its balance, and find a way out of the mess those outside men had made. Everybody could be happy again.


1913 Massacre in Detroit on 12/08/13

Documentary As A Layer of Memory

Geoff Gimse saw our film last Thursday evening, at Michigan Tech. Here, Ken and I agree, he nails it, and we especially dig his last comment about the film as “another layer of…memory.”

Since the actual facts of the tragedy are impossible to discern, the film instead focuses on how the events are remembered and how that memory becomes internalized in a community. It is memory, especially familial memory, that becomes particularly important to the film. It tracks the event through the stories that were passed down from the survivors to their children and grandchildren. This familial context is then further explored through Woody Guthrie’s song, from which the film takes it title. Arlo Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s son, is interviewed at length regarding his father and the impact of the song itself. It is apparent by the end of the film that the Italian Hall Disaster, now almost 100 years past, remains a living memory that continues to have a real impact on the community today. Indeed, even the movie itself can be seen as another layer of that memory. It is a recording of voices. Voices that were previously unheard but are now remembered.

“They Try to Create Despair Among the Miners”

One of the small treasures I brought back to New York from Lake Superior is Hannu Leppanen and Daniel Schneider’s 2013 letterpress edition of Tyomies, the Finnish workingman’s newspaper published during the strike of 1913. I’ve mentioned the project here before. Daniel set up his Chandler & Price Pilot Press at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock and turned out a limited edition broadside with the original Finnish text accompanied by an English translation.

I was lucky enough to cross paths with Daniel briefly at Michigan Tech last Thursday. I gave him copy of 1913 Massacre and he gave me his Tyomies.

No sooner did I open up the package than I came across the following passage:

Apparently, the bars of the city have already embarked to advocate the interests of the mining companies. In Italian and other language bars, it has been explained to the miners that the Finns have gone to work, and in Finnish bars people have been told that the Italians have not begun the strike. However, this is all a devious lie, by which means they try to create despair among the miners, and thus break their strike. Therefore, workers, do not believe what you are told in the bars. If you want to get information about the strike, you will get the right information in the union office.

This confusion of languages and the “despair” it caused helps put Tyomies in context. The union-busting disinformation campaign took advantage of the fact that many of the striking miners in 1913 could not communicate with others outside their own ethnic group. The plan — as someone in the audience at the DeVos Art Museum last Saturday remarked — was to generate and perpetuate distrust among the different ethnic groups: Italians vs. Finns, Croatians vs. Cornish, and so on.

As Arthur Thurner explains in Rebels on the Range, the Western Federation of Miners could not even try to organize the miners of the the Keweenaw until they found a way to counter these tactics. They had met with the same difficulties in a failed bid to organize the iron miners on the Mesabi Range in 1906 and 1907. Vincent St. John, a WFM board member, pointed to the need in 1906 for “competent organizers who speak Finnish, Italian, Austrian, Slovenian and Polish.”

One such organizer among the Italians of the Keweenaw was Teofilo Petriella, a veteran of the Mesabi range strike. In 1907, the Mesaba Ore denounced him as an “alien Dago anarchist.” His biographers in I Figli Della Campagna: Ensayos sobre la emigracion de los campanos en Argentina merely say that he was “stubborn” and that his political ideas often prevented him from getting work. (That echoes Petriella’s own self-description, which is preserved in the 1907 Proceedings of the WFM.)

Petriella and his wife Anita came to the United States in 1900, after he had had been fired for his politics from his job as a schoolteacher in Circello, a village in the Italian Campania, in the province of Benevento. He first got involved with IWW, then, in Minnesota, with the WFM. In 1913, we find him in Calumet, in the pay of the Socialist Party. His was probably a familiar face at the Italian Hall.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Teofilo Petriella, circa 1907, dressed for the Minnesota winter.

Check Out This Performance of ‘1913 Massacre’

After seeing our film, composer Rob Garcia was so taken with Woody’s song that he developed this original setting of “1913 Massacre.”

Here’s Rob Garcia’s Soap Box performing the song at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture last month.

The Soap Box ensemble features:

Jean Rohe – vocals
Michel Gentile – flute
Todd Neufeld – guitar
Chris Tordini – bass
Rob Garcia – drums

Everyone Was In It


One of the enduring and iconic images of the 1913 strike is this photograph, of a boy carrying a sign that reads, “Papa Is Striking For Us.” Both the sign and the photograph were probably created by WFM organizers, who were pretty savvy when it came to media relations. (So, for instance, we learned that the WFM shot film of the Italian Hall funeral, which they used to stir public outrage; we looked for a long time but never managed to turn up a single frame of it.)

That’s not to say children did not feel genuine pride or admiration for their striking fathers. The children even followed their parents’ example. On the morning of October 6th, according to a local newspaper, nearly 500 pupils stayed home from school, on strike. “About 9 o’clock they formed a parade, marching about Ahmeek, yelling and employing tactics similar to those of their parents in a federation demonstration.”

And the children were already embroiled in the trouble: about a week after the children’s strike parade in Ahmeek, a group of children in Centennial Heights “attacked the home of a non-union man” and broke several windows.

That marching boy with the hand-painted sign may have helped the WFM win sympathy for the striking miners, but it’s just as important to realize that he was actually in the fight — striking for papa just as papa was striking for him. Children all around the Keweenaw were in it. Entire families were in it, whether they supported the strike or belonged to the Citizens Alliance or wanted nothing to do with either side. Everyone was in it.

1913 Massacre in Marquette on 10/26/13

“Unfinished Business”

Mike Ragogna interviews Nora Guthrie today on Huffington Post about her father and his music.

MR: Were there certain topics brought up in his material, such as the plight of the Mexican worker in “Deportees,” that resonated with you more than others?

NG: Woody wrote over 3000 songs for every aspect of life, a song to sing at each moment of the day, for every mood, for every step of life’s journey. So it’s impossible to single out any, as so many resonate at different moments in time…I grew up to understand what “Pretty Boy Floyd” was all about, and really began to appreciate his ability to tell a story that exists for all time, like “1913 Massacre.” Funny you should mention “Deportee.” On Labor Day, there was a dedication ceremony in Fresno, California, at the mass grave where the migrants who lost their lives were buried with no names. A young musician, Tim Hernandez, spent the last two years researching the story and actually found their names! So the dedication ceremony will finally list all their names. I’m so moved when moments like this happen. Woody wrote the song more than sixty years ago, but it was unfinished business. “All they will call you will be deportees” was his lament. Now, that is no longer the case. The same thing happened recently when two young filmmakers researched the story behind “1913 Massacre,” and made a documentary about the incident, also including all the names of the children and families that died. That film is currently being shown on some public television stations and film festival, and hopefully many people will want to learn more about what took place when the copper miners of Calumet, Michigan, decided to strike in 1913, and the consequences they suffered for their cause. “Pastures of Plenty” is just about the most singular piece of poetic writing ever in a lyric. A total work of art. Springsteen once said, “Nobody can write songs like that anymore.”

A Theme from Labor Day 1913

One hundred years ago today, in 1913, a crowd of almost 3000 people gathered in the sweltering heat at the municipal park in Hancock, Michigan for a Labor Day rally. It had been a difficult, violent summer, and there was no indication that the strike on the Copper Range was going to be settled anytime soon.

When George C. Bentley, a probate judge, addressed the crowd, it was to remind them that though they had every right to strike, they should remember that some kinds of persuasion were not permissible. He no doubt had in mind the taunting and beating of scabs in the street and the damage done to mining company property. Guy Miller, an organizer from the Western Federation of Miners, met this conciliatory gesture with a sharp rebuff. He rose and argued that “human rights were deserving of more consideration than property rights.”

Take some time to think about the theme and circumstances of Miller’s speech today. It seems to me a day dedicated to working people ought to be a day on which the basic human rights of all deserve more consideration than the property rights of the few.

Woody Guthrie dedicated one of the lesser-known verses of “This Land is Your Land” to the idea:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Women on the Verge of a Social Breakdown

womenmarchflagBy late August of 1913, authorities in Calumet were facing a problem that was “becoming more perplexing each day.” Women were mixing it up with strikebreakers, scabs, deputies and national guardsmen. “This development is perplexing,” read an article dated August 28th, “as the men are timid in resisting such attacks.” The women were “spitting in the faces of deputies and hurling curses and slurs upon the civil guards”; they “pummeled workmen returning to their homes from the mines,” and when one workman fought back, “this angered the dozen or more women in the crowd and a free-for-all melee followed.”

Brawling, spitting, cursing women — female furies loosed in the streets — came to stand for the social disorder that swept over Calumet in 1913. Local storyteller Jack Foster could think of no better way to communicate how bad things had gotten than to tell us, during the last interview we did with him, that in 1913 “you had women running around with brooms, dipped in the outhouses, slashing at you if you went to work. You can’t imagine what we went through here.” In Jack’s account, and in many popular accounts of the time, these women were something that ordinarily would be unimaginable.

But these were extraordinary times. The word often chosen to describe the problem these women in Calumet represented — perplexing — suggests a difficult entanglement of social logic. Things had gotten all mixed up, confounded. The women fighting in the streets were defying authority in all senses of the word: not just the deputized and enlisted forces of law and order, but also the social forces that ordinarily kept women in their place, or at least prevented them from roving in bands and taking over the streets.