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Community in Conflict

A Working-class History of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Mine Strike and the Italian Hall Tragedy

Gary Kaunonen, Aaron Goings

Publication Year: 2013

A mirror of great changes that were occurring on the national labor rights scene, the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike was a time of unprecedented social upheaval in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With organized labor taking an aggressive stance against the excesses of unfettered capitalism, the stage was set for a major struggle between labor and management. The Michigan Copper Strike received national attention and garnered the support of luminaries in organized labor like Mother Jones, John Mitchell, Clarence Darrow, and Charles Moyer. The hope of victory was overshadowed, however, by violent incidents like the shooting of striking workers and their family members, and the bitterness of a community divided. No other event came to symbolize or memorialize the strike more than the Italian Hall tragedy, in which dozens of workers and working-class children died. In Community in Conflict, the efforts of working people to gain a voice on the job and in their community through their unions, and the efforts of employers to crush those unions, take center stage. Previously untapped historical sources such as labor spy reports, union newspapers, coded messages, and artifacts shine new light on this epic, and ultimately tragic, period in American labor history.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

While much of the Copper Country’s tradition celebrates the sheer enormity and progress of the area’s halcyon copper days and the men who drew enormous profits from the industry, there was the “little” discrepancy: thousands of mineworkers were the ones who actually worked to produce all this wealth. ...

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pp. xi-xiv

First and foremost, my family: Sofia, Niilo, and Grady, this book is dedicated to each of you. If I can teach you one thing in life, it is that persistence pays off (and never trust “The Man”). Lindsay was patient and supportive of late nights at the keyboard and trips to public presentations. ...

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pp. 1-8

In many ways, the Copper Country was a typical late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century American mining region with disputes between labor and management that every so often climaxed in a divisive labor strike. Atypical, however, was one specific event in the Copper Country’s history—the Italian Hall tragedy in Calumet, Michigan, on Christmas Eve in 1913. ...

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Chapter 1. Context

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pp. 9-24

On the afternoon of April 4, 1914, Joseph Cannon of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was addressing a group of radicals and workers with news of the great Copper Country Strike still under way in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The well-attended speech was delivered to some of the leading lights of American radicalism, including Carlo Tresca and Alexander Berkman. ...

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Chapter 2. Community

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pp. 25-44

On September 1, 1913, unionized workers throughout the Copper Country joined their family members and supporters in celebrating Labor Day. However, this holiday differed substantially from earlier Labor Days as it occurred in the middle of the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike. The Miners’ Bulletin, the organ of the striking mineworkers, reported the size of the celebration ...

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Chapter 3. Immigrants

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pp. 45-66

In the years leading up to the 1913–14 Copper Country Strike, immigrant laborers took on an increasingly important role in the Copper Country’s labor force, as well as in its radical and workers’ movements. The presence of European-born workers and their children was visible in union memberships, in the foreign-language labor and left-wing publications they wrote, ...

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Chapter 4. Troublemakers

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pp. 67-80

Picnics, parades, and conventions were all characteristic of the rich public culture crafted by Copper Country socialists during the early twentieth century. Perhaps the radicals’ favorite date for taking to the streets was the first of May, May Day, widely known as International Workers’ Day. ...

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Chapter 5. Organization

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pp. 81-104

Due to the efforts of early union organizers, class-conscious immigrants, and resilient radicals, Copper Country mineworkers began to believe that there was an opportunity to collectively voice their concerns about wages, hours, and working conditions in an attempt to exert some control over their labor. ...

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Chapter 6. Union

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pp. 105-134

As Bruce “Utah” Phillips melodically rambled in a spoken-word song on the Grammy-nominated album Fellow Workers, “There are so few wars of peoples’ liberation, for the people have seldom risen.”1 The people were rising in the Copper Country. For many strikers, but not all, this conflict was a war—a class war—of people’s liberation. ...

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Chapter 7. Company

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pp. 135-166

It was rigged. It was all rigged. The entire Keweenaw Peninsula was bought and sold a long time before anyone with a red Western Federation of Miners (WFM) card stepped onto the Keweenaw’s copper-rich ground. Documentary evidence demonstrates that from the gerrymandering of local elections, to the thumbs-up or thumbs-down of naturalization decisions ...

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Chapter 8. Tragedy

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pp. 167-198

The 1913–14 Copper Country Strike was a bitter conflict between the burgeoning strength of organized labor and the entrenched power of American industrial capital. Like many of the bloody labor conflicts that came before, there were casualties in the Copper Country: Alois “Louie” Tijan and Steve Putrich gave their lives and became martyrs to the cause, ...

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Chapter 9. Fire!?

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pp. 199-220

The absolute chaos surrounding the horrible and tragic events at Italian Hall had no precedent in Michigan history and was on disastrous par with tragic events in American labor history such as the deaths at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. A massive crowd gathered around the hall minutes after the events unfolded, and a morbid interest surrounded the events thereafter. ...

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Chapter 10. Cave-In

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pp. 221-238

In mining lingo a “cave-in” is the falling of a massive amount of earth on the top of a person. In coalmines, this could mean an entire mountain would collapse on top of people, stranding or killing hundreds of people; but in the Keweenaw, cave-ins generally happened when a section or rock from the “hanging” wall or overhead “ceiling” fell to the bottom of a work area known as a “stope.” ...

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pp. 239-244

After the great struggle to organize the Copper Country was over, there was time to pause and consider the eff ects the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike had on Michigan and America. Perhaps the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, the journal for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, which ran articles about the strike, put the strike in the most appropriate perspective. ...


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pp. 245-280


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pp. 281-298


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pp. 299-305

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173852
E-ISBN-10: 1609173856
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860931
Print-ISBN-10: 1611860938

Page Count: 334
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st