Exactly one hundred years ago, the state government of Colorado and the Rockefeller owned CFI company, (Colorado Fuel and Iron), committed an atrocity against poor striking workers – even before the Great Slaughter of World War I. This terrible atrocity possessed the infamous name of the Ludlow Massacre.
What was amazing about this particular miners’ struggle was that they represented various nationalities and cultures: Eastern European, German, Greek, Mexican, Anglo-American, Irish, Italian, New Mexican, British, French and even a few African-Americans. This motley ethnic group had finally had enough with the mining system practiced in the state of Colorado at the turn of the century.
America’s business elites had badgered the federal government for a more ‘disciplined and compliant’ workforce, so the US state apparatus willingly allowed millions of immigrants to enter its borders. The mine owners preferred to hire the newly arrived immigrants due to their willingness to accept low wages and that they all spoke different languages. Unions had troubles organizing against the mine bosses. Those mine bosses also built company towns. Sometimes they literally took over a town with a pit mine in it, and later, transformed the village into a mining town.
In the mining towns, the mine workers and their families lived in shacks without the basic hygienic systems. They had to pay high rents, and buy their basic supplies from the company stores, meaning clothes, foodstuffs and the basic articles for survival. The company stores nickel and dimed the workers on shelf items, and the workers had to use worthless company scrip papers. Sometimes, the mine company paid the workers in those worthless papers, instead of the regular notes.
Workers had to inform the mine company guards when leaving or arriving. The mine company guards ran the towns like the prisons. These legal criminals even murdered or tortured the uncooperative and rebellious workers in the dead of the night. There was really nothing the miners could do, since the main mining outfits had monopolistic owners, such as the Rockefeller family. The Rockefeller’s 40 room villa was all the way on the other side of the continent anyway – Tarrytown, New York!
Mining was a very dangerous job. The mining schedule was a seven-day a week back and neck destroyer that went from sun up to sun down. Back then, accidents, explosions and mine disasters were quite common. Miners died through simple overwork, lung emphysema, suffocation-drowning through getting buried alive or due to flash flooding in the tunnels, or just having their bodies blown into various pieces due to sudden explosions. There was no compensation for any mining accident. A dead miner had to pay for his own burial, or the other miners just threw the dead weight into the common garbage ditch.
In Ludlow, the miners and their families created their own alternative town. They armed themselves with guns, set up a functioning mutual aid system at the campsite, squatted on the land, and the men wore ripped pants, overalls, caps on their heads, and red bandanas around their necks. This was the true origin of the term ‘redneck,’ yet in the current Amerikan Empire, racists and reactionaries have taken the class war term ‘redneck,’ as their own.
The state of Colorado and the Rockefeller monopoly counterattacked with allowing the company mine guards to join the Colorado State Militia. They too had guns – and cannons – and bombs. On April 20th, 1914 they fired upon the tent colony and burnt up the Ludlow miners-squatters camp, murdering around 20 people, most of whom were women and children.
This was not the end of the story. The men of the red bandanas moved the offensive into the Colorado hills. They killed mine guards, worker narc-snitches, and mine pit bosses. The actual number of killed company thugs is still unknown to this day. The miner-guerrillas were so successful in exterminating the mine managers and company town goons that Liberal Democrap, President Wilson sent into federal troops to intimidate the fighters.
Soon, the IWW solidarity union, or the Wobblies, joined with the miner-fighters, while the Rockefellers tried their hands at ‘company unions’ in order to squelch the mutual aid and solidarity networks. Eventually, the mine owners had to settle for union organization with the United Mine Workers. Now the miner job pays well, has some worker compensation packages, and there are less mine pit hours.
The miners had moved onto the war of offense because they had nothing else to lose. They had realized that they had become wage slaves.
Capitalism owes its evil birth from the rotting flesh of slavery. Capitalism and Slavery are historically intertwined like moss growing on an old stone building. We understand this history of Capitalism thanks to the nineteenth-century intellectual, Karl Marx.
Karl Marx was however wrong about his general theories of history. Marx stated in his 1848 writings that all culture and history, called the ‘superstructure of society,’ came out of the ‘productive base of labor and work.’ This theory is incorrect. He was mistaken because he was a philosopher trying to become a historian. History is not a social science but an art of interpreting human struggles and violence. Like artists, humans simply create their own history, and make up their own culture.
Karl Marx was actually quite brilliant in describing the brutality of the capitalist system. Capitalism spreads like gangrene, and grows into monstrous monopolies, while it becomes ever more contradictory as it expands out into the farthest reaches of the planet. This tendency to overproduce, to over-control, and to over-extend leads into the contradictory world of class conflict over wage slavery.
Class conflict or class struggle is simply the continual and incessant changes coming from the owners-bosses in demanding more brutal work output from the workers. The owners want the workers to produce more and more until the poor laborers drop dead because the owners run the businesses for the sake of profit. ‘Profit’ comes from the French verb, ‘profiter,’ which implies, ‘to take advantage of someone.’
Yet the workers only want to work the least amount as possible, since they have to give up their lives, their time and their energy for a survival wage. This is the contradictory condition within all ‘businesses,’ both large and small, imprisoned inside the capitalist beast.
The worker or laborer transforms into the wage slave because he or she must have some income, or wage salary, in order to pay government taxes and rent-utility bills for shelter, and then pay for foodstuffs and clothes. Marx correctly surmised that all working people laboring for a wage have to then ‘sell themselves’ to the owners on the capitalist market. The owners hire managers or company commanders to hire out for them. The plantation boss used overseers to manage labor discipline. The wage slaves, like the slaves of ancient times, must willingly give up large portions of their personal time and strength in order to receive this survival wage or slave wage.
This particular labor-slave cycle continues until they are too old, badly injured, or simply worthless, within the general labor pool. Once they go, then the owner can easily find a younger and more compliant worker to replace the labor loss. When the slave never woke up from sleep or died while working, the plantation owner then visited the slave market for a replacement.
The company owner reviews the labor market through hiring managers that do the employment screening. It is the not the tyranny of useless money that eventually kills the spirit of the average worker-laborer-employee, rather it is the tyranny of the cruel labor market represented through a fetid pool of applicants.
The first capitalist systems in the late medieval period, such as Islamic culture and the Venetian Empire needed an easy and compliant labor source too. They used what all empires have used throughout history: the capture, kidnapping and slow murder of slaves. The Muslim caliphates raided the pagan coasts of East Africa and the Christian Balcans, while the Catholic Venetians raided Muslim and Orthodox Christian territories in Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and parts of North Africa. During the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries, (1400s and 1500s), the newer Atlantic world empires of Spain and Portugal would also raid North Africa for a ready supply of slaves. Eventually they would both go deeper into the African continent.
The other Atlantic world empires followed them, such as the Dutch, (Netherlands), with France and Britain in the seventeenth-century, (1600s). Following the Brazilian Portuguese use of captured slaves from the Tupamori Nation, the Spanish soon became the leaders in the use of captured native slaves from the Mapuche Nation of central Chile, the Guarani Nation of Paraguay, and the Apache Nation in the Red Rocks, or ‘Colorado’ frontier of Nuevo Mejico, (New Mexico). In the 18th century, (1700s), the British Empire would even overtake both the French Empire and the Portuguese Empire in becoming world history’s greatest kidnapping-mass murder-slave trade potentate from Africa to Asia to the Americas.
This imperial political-economic system transformed into Mercantile capitalism. The royal state with favored investors, usually aristocrat-noble relations or court favorites, controlled joint stock companies and the profits of final sale. Meanwhile, the slave planters had to bear numerous credit-debts through purchasing slaves and dealing with cash crop fluctuations in the market, such as sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, tea, opium and cotton.
Due to this capitalistic ‘mercantile’ monopoly, a new group of outlaws emerged in order to take fast money and loot for themselves, commonly called back then, ‘pirates.’ But for the West Indian ‘white’ planters, slaves were an excellent resource because they could also resale such movable capital. In the case of the Africans, they were the victims of kidnapping slave traders in Africa, and they had no legal resources. They were socially dead human waste.
Britain was also notorious for using just as many ‘white slaves,’ as their ‘black or African ones.’ The white slaves were often the victims of kidnapping rings found all over England and occupied Ireland. When the white slaves began to fraternize with the African ones, then African slavery began to have more ominous, permanent tones.
Britain’s world-wide kidnapping-slave-mass murder system was so successful that it freed up a special commandeering class of scientists, inventors and investors to fund and experiment in technological advancement. It is no coincidence that during this same eighteenth-century, Industrial Capitalism came into fruition.
But the old system of plantation agriculture slavery in the American colonial-settler states, with its numerous inefficiencies and ugly brutality – had to go. Industrial capitalism valued the factory system, which produced a lot more, and hid its brutalities under smoke stacks and within inferno like worker dungeons. A new slave economy was necessary.
Instead of the owners paying for the worker-slaves’ crap food and flea infested huts, they could pay the losers a ‘wage.’ Now, the lowlifes had to pay their own way through life – and literally beg for a ‘job.’ They were technically free – but like any slave, they permanently lost their honor and dignity.
We have returned full circle to the slave trade of Ludlow. These terrible relations between capitalism and slavery still breathe their noxious fumes as I write.
Now capitalism functions under even greater duress, and its contradictions are so much more intense due to the actual extremes of global monopoly capitalism. Even the technically skilled or PhDs, such as myself, have to suffer under the indignity of permanent unemployment or underemployment. Billions of us currently experience life as capitalism’s victims. Even if we don’t work for ‘The Man,’ we still slave under the mental guilt of not having any good employment prospects. Unless we have family money to support us, we must continually resell ourselves on the slave labor market for survival.
If we really own property, which means no mortgage debts or property taxes whatsoever, then we are all technically homeless. We give dirty stares to the pathetic ‘home bums,’ or permanently homeless, on the street corners; yet, their numbers will only continue to grow. Some of us reading this essay, will also end our lives down there – dying slowly in the hopeless gutter.
For the rest of us that are ‘lucky to have work,’ our ‘freedom’ comes at a terrible price. A good chunk of our time and our lives goes to the owner’s personal profit margin, while our general quality of life suffers. We also live impaired under the political-cultural ideology of global monopoly capitalism, called Neo-Liberalism. Most of us live in overcrowded and unhealthy cities, where most of our ‘wage money’ goes into a toilet drain of rent housing.
In order to live economically, many of us have to consume crappy genetically modified food. Meanwhile, both our minds and stomachs have to tolerate regular scam artistry, ubiquitous, large public signs that warn and threaten with the smoldering potential of violent street crime. All of us must endure the institutional violence of petty felony laws, common deceitfulness between neighbors, continual advertising overload, and pathological lying from politicians. Like the old saying goes, ‘slavery has never ended.’