Ludlow, Colorado. Monday, April 20th, 1914, just one day after Easter. The Colorado National Guard surrounds a tent colony—known as a company town—owned by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, a mining company operated by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
For fourteen hours, miners and their families dodge bullets fired by the Guard. They try desperately to defend themselves and their homes, but they are far outgunned by the Guard’s high-powered machine guns.
As those in the tent city take cover, the Guard continues to fire upon them, and eventually, the Guard begins setting fires, which spread fast in the tent city. Seeking shelter, some of the company town’s residence dig a pit underneath one of the tents. Under a hail of machine gun fire and raging flames, four women and several children rush to hide in the makeshift bunker. Above them, the Guard continues to assault the colony with gunfire and set new fires. Flames soon spread to the tent above the colonists hiding in the newly dug pit and their oxygen is quickly stolen from them. With a lack of air in the pit, a raging fire above them, and a continuing barrage of gunfire all around, they are forced to stay in the pit and die.
Once the ashes settled, two of the women and all eleven children were found dead in the pit. They were asphyxiated and their bodies badly burned. In addition, three of the mine’s union leaders and two workers had been killed by gunfire, as well as another child, and one person who was just passing by as the firefight broke out, bringing the total number of dead to nineteen.
So, what had happened at Ludlow to cause the Colorado National Guard to surround the tent city, open fire on its residents, and kill nineteen of them in the process? The miners who lived there had been on strike. They were seeking a better wage and safer working conditions, as 104 people had died in Colorado’s mines in 1913 alone. They were simply seeking better working conditions and a better way of life.
Today, unions are often vilified. We are told that unions are unnecessary, that all they do is steal money from the paychecks of their members, and that they are somehow responsible for budget shortfalls of cities across the nation.This is simply not true. Unions have long been the only chance working people have at getting a fair deal with the companies they work for. Unions bring workers better wages, safer working conditions, and a greater voice for how they are treated in the workplace.
Thanks to the work of those in the labor movement, American workers today do not face the dangerous conditions and slave wages that the miners of the Ludlow Massacre did. However, it is important that we remember those who gave their lives and helped bring us to where we are today.