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Blood of the Workers
Mother Jones

Blood of the Workers
  • I. W. W., One Big Union of All the Worke... (by )
  • The Morality of the Strike (by )
  • Autobiography of Mother Jones, The (by )
  • The Little Red Song Book (by )
  • King Coal (by )
  • The I.W.W., a Study of American Syndical... (by )
  • Child Labor; Facts and Figures (by )
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In the heat of a series of American coal strikes in the late 19th and early 20th century, one Irish-American woman rose to prominence, gaining the title of the most dangerous woman in America, as well as the equal parts intimate and indomitable moniker of Mother Jones

One of these coal mines in West Virginia saw the so-called miner’s union led by non-coal working officials who were appointed by the owners of the mine in a thinly-veiled lie meant to appease the strike. Mother Jones spoke of the situation with an oratory fire now rarely heard:

I want to say, my friends, I have only one journey to go through this life; you have only one journey to go through this life; let us all do the best we can for humanity, for mankind, while we are here. That is my mission, to do what I can to raise mankind to break his chains. The miners are close to me. The steel workers are. I go among them all. One time when I took up the Mexican question … I went up to carry the matter to Congress. [Congressman] Dalzell said to me, "Mother Jones, where do you live?" I said, "In the United States, sir." "What part of the United States?" said he. I said, "Wherever the workers are fighting the robbers, there am I." (“Speech to Striking Coal Miners”)

Her speech was met with loud cheers and affirmations. It was also used against her in a court case charging her for inciting violence. She was later cleared of the charges.

Born Mary Harris in 1937 in Cork City, Ireland, she emigrated with her family to Toronto, Canada in 1850. She grew up to become a teacher and a dressmaker, married, and raised a family of four children. After moving to Memphis, Tennessee, tragedy arrived in the form of the yellow fever epidemic of 1867, and her husband and children died. Jones thereafter moved to Chicago where, over the next two decades, she grew more and more incensed by the poor working conditions and lack of rights of the working class.
I saw the women working in the sweatshop and the store,
In the office and the factory, and at home they scrubbed the floor

I saw the worn-out miners scrubbing coal dust from their backs;
I heard their children crying, "Got no coal to heat these shacks." (p. 8 The Little Red Song Book by Industrial Workers of the World)

The latter years of Mother Jones’ life saw her working tirelessly for the rights of all the working class. She organized countless protests and marches, including the March of the Mill Children in 1903, where her and a few dozen children—some of whom were crippled from the machinery of the mills they worked in—walked from Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt’s on Long Island, staging rallies every place they stopped along the way. Jones helped lead the strike of West Virginia coal miners of 1921, which led to the largest, armed-labor uprising since the Civil War, known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. She advised against the armed revolt, fearing a loss and a subsequent backlash against their cause, but remained with the workers nonetheless. She was also one of the co-founders of the international labor union, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

In 1902, they called her “the most dangerous woman in America.” But it was true only to those who held monopoly on power and money. For the rest of the world’s working class, she was one of the fiercest allies.

For more material on Mother Jones and the cause she fought for, check out the Autobiography of Mother Jones, The Morality of the Strike by Donald Alexander Mclean, and One Big Union of All the Workers by the IWW.

By Thad Higa

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