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.