Western Federation of Miners


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Western Federation of Miners

(WFM), a radical labor union that organized the miners and smelter workers of the Rocky Mountain states. Created in 1893 by the merger of several local miners' unions, the WFM had a reputation for violent strikes and militant action from its beginning. On several occasions pitched battles occurred between union members and company guards, and state militia and federal troops were sometimes dispatched to keep order in strike areas, such as Leadville, Colo., and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. When Frank Steunenberg, a former governor of Idaho, was murdered in 1905, attempts were made to fix the responsibility on the WFM. Charles Moyer, president of the union, William D. HaywoodHaywood, William Dudley,
1869–1928, American labor leader, known as Big Bill Haywood, b. Salt Lake City, Utah. He began work as a miner at 15 years of age. In 1896 he joined the newly organized Western Federation of Miners, and in 1900 became a member of the executive
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, secretary, and George Pettibone, a former member, were arrested and stood trial for Steunenberg's murder; defended by Clarence S. Darrow, they were acquitted. The WFM had joined the American Federation of Labor in 1896, but the conservative policies of that organization caused the WFM to withdraw the following year, and, in 1898, to attempt to organize a rival federation, the Western Labor Union. In 1901 the WFM adopted a socialist program, and after the failure of the Western Labor Union it joined in the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. Factionalism within the IWW led to the defection of the WFM, which then rejoined (1911) the American Federation of Labor. The failure of several strikes and the depression of 1914 injured the union, and it suffered from antiradical feeling. Declining in membership and power, the union changed its name in 1916 to International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.

Bibliography

See V. H. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict (1950, repr. 1968); S. H. Holbrook, The Rocky Mountain Revolution (1956).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Around this time, he became a member of the Western Federation of Miners and the Socialist Party of America, soon giving May Day speeches in Globe, organizing Mexican mine labour in Clifton, working on behalf of the free speech movement in Missoula, Spokane, San Diego, and Fresno, where he was arrested five times during what the author calls his "defining chapter." (169) Just as in Fresno, Little's work landed him in jails across the West and on several occasions left him beaten and scarred.
For nine months, the mineworkers, represented by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), battled the copper companies in courtrooms, in the press, and in the streets.
Members and leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, and Telluride's Local 63 were so thoroughly castigated by so many that she decided she wanted to know them better.
(3) From 1898 to 1902 many Lethbridge miners had belonged to a radical, and sometimes violent, labour union known as the Western Federation of Miners. (4)
The "speed of the transition from a primitive to a more mature economy" in the mining West, a dramatic transition that brought with it social polarization, communities effectively colonized by corporations, and harsh material conditions, prompted miners to join the radical Western Federation of Miners; the Mountain West from 1890 to 1905, Dubofsky argued, "followed the classic Marxian pattern of development" (p.46), producing a Marxist class ideology.
They were further segregated by the development of separate labor organizations: the Western Federation of Miners was hostile to Mexicans, who developed their own labor organizations within their fraternal lodges or mutualistas.
Not so much the war itself--the other industrial revolution between capital and labor, which began in earnest some thirty years before Steunenberg's assassination and stretched on past the conclusion of the conspiracy trial of the Western Federation of Miners' "Big Bill" Haywood.
Steunenberg's assassination triggered a massive response by the governors of both Idaho and Colorado, prodded by (and in large part paid for by) the mine owners, who immediately pinned the crime on Haywood and two other top leaders of the radical Western Federation of Miners. Their arrest in Colorado, transfer to Idaho, and subsequent trial were all orchestrated by James McParland, an aging Pinkerton operative who'd become something of a celebrity for infiltrating and then helping to prosecute the infamous Molly Maguire labor terrorists; among other things, he'd been turned by Arthur Conan Doyle into a character in a rare Sherlock Holmes story set in the United States.
Moreover, by concentrating on organizations like the United Mine Workers of America, the Western Federation of Miners, and the Industrial Workers of the World, Long gives insufficient attention to the way that miners mobilized other resources, including churches and fraternal orders, to counteract the impact of inequality.

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