Mother Jones, "Speech at Baseball Park in West Virginia," 1912
Throughout her life the miners remained Mother Jones's first love. So, in 1912 when she learned of a miners' strike in West Virginia, she cancelled all other engagements and returned to Appalachia. The strike had begun when the owners ended negotiations for a pay increase and payroll deduction of union dues and revoked recognition of the union.
With the cheapest coal on the market, the owners feared that their competitors were supporting the union. Angered by the owners' actions, union and non-union miners went on strike. Over the next few months as the strike spread to include more miners, owners brought in strike-breakers and armed guards. After sixteen men died in a clash between strikers and guards, the governor called in the state militia to contain the spreading violence.
To this point, West Virginia had been a difficult region for the United Mine Workers of America to organize. But as more miners had families to support and a group consciousness developed among the ethnically and racially diverse miners, the men grew more willing to fight. In this speech, Mother Jones appeals their positions as husbands and fathers, and their group identity to motivate them.
As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:
- Who are Mother Jones's people?
- What was the struggle underlying the cause of the strikes? Does she believe class harmony is possible?
- Does Mother Jones appear to be religious? What did Mother Jones mean when she said, "Religion changes without changing the order of production?" Was this good or bad?
- In light of her comments on government officials, both good and bad officials, did she believe that the government could help solve the problems?
- In this speech Mother Jones speaks of the cycle of enslavement that condemns people to a life of poverty. Who created this cycle? Whom does it benefit? Who must break it?