John Davies was 12 years old when he first went down the pit in Rhondda Valley, Wales. This is his photograph. The year Davies was born, in 1897, on the other side of the ocean, miners staged an uprising. In the US, immigrants from all corners of the world were fed up of sweating and dying in the bowels of the earth in exchange for nothing.

sefertasli “72 nations meet here” is a Turkish expression used to indicate the coming together in a certain place of a great mixture of people, and it was perhaps never more appropriate than for turn-of-the-century U.S. The 12,799 miners working in Colorado mines in 1920 came from the following ethnic backgrounds: 3651 were Americans, 2325 Mexican, 2292 Italian, 857 Croatian, 405 Greek, 221 Austrian, 210 Scot, 192 Welsh, 176 Polish, 153 German, 148 French, 122 Spanish, 116 Russian, 104 Irish, 93 Hungarian, 72 Serbian, 63 Bohemian, 63 Swedish, 54 Finnish, 38 Romanian, 18 Japanese, 18 Montenegrin and 16 Belgian. Although they didn’t understand each other’s language, there is no doubt that there was a common language they all shared. It was thanks to that common language that their labor union, The United Mine Workers of America, had 140 thousand members and managed to sustain their 1902 strike for 9 months until the intervention of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.

In September 1897, striking workers in Pennsylvania marched to the Lattimer mine to demand their union rights. The sheriff and his men blocked the way, grabbed the American flag they carried, and ordered, “Disperse!”. They tried, but his men opened fire on them; 25 Polish, Slovakian and Lithuanian workers fell. The workers back then probably didn't know what the free market was about, since they united irregardless whether they were English, Scottish or Welsh, and they died together. Croatian, Bohemian and Italian workers refused to go to work after their friends were killed.

The sheriff couldn't handle the survivors and called in the National Guard. They came with their artillery. It didn't matter. Workers continued to spread the union's message and the strike from mine to mine.

Don't let their rifles fool you, they were using them to hunt and feed themselves. Still, the union message spreading... armed miners everywhere… the markets were terribly unsettled.


In the first years of the 20th century, Virden was a tiny mining town in the area. And here it is 20 years later. The bosses of the Chicago Virden Coal Company build a wooden palisade around the mine to keep strikers out, and had armed guards manning the wall. The union hadn't organized the mine, but work stopped anyway. The bosses rounded up about 200 black workers from Alabama, put them on a train with their families, and set out. Miners in Virden caught drift of this and set up a roadblock. As the train approached Illinois, the uninformed black workers saw armed white men board the train. The curtains of the carriages carrying the black workers were drawn, and their doors were locked. As the train entered Virden, rifle fire from the train and the mine descended on the workers at the roadblock. Eight workers were killed, forty wounded.


The shooters were experts. The company brought in ex-cops and PIs armed with Winchesters. The workers were ready and responded in turn. Four of the bosses' men died, five wounded. The train took the black workers back. Only one of them was injured. Eight of their own died, but the miners had defeated the company. A month later the bosses accepted both a pay raise and the eight-hour work day, and they cursed the mayor for not calling in the National Guard.


Naturally, the free market had been injured. The proper way to do things was: Make money off somebody else's sweat, if they complain, have the mayor call in the guard.

More than a hundred years later, the people of Virden commemorated the events of 1898 with a monument.

These are images of this monument, unveiled in 2006. There are so many places in Turkey where we could erect such monuments… It would boost the bronze sector and contribute to the market.

winch73The rifle bearing the name of Oliver Winchester, the largest shareholder of the company, took its place in the annals of history especially with its 1873 model. In America, it is colloquially known as “The Gun that Won the West.” The Henry, the predecessor of the Winchester, had previously won the North the American Civil War. We have seen many films where the Winchester is used against the American Natives. However, it was probably deemed inappropriate to depict in film its use against workers. James Stewart starred in Anthony Mann’s 1950 flick “Winchester ‘73”, with Shelley Winters as the “female interest.” The young Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis also feature in early roles.

The union bought a lot nearby in Mount Olive and built a mausoleum for its dead. The legendary American labor hero Mother Jones asked to be and was buried with “her brave boys” at Mount Olive as well.

mojoToday there is a publication in the US named after Mother Jones, shortly known as MoJo. Describing itself as a reader-supported, non-profit news organization, it is dedicated to “smart, fearless journalism”. The most popular democratic magazine in the US with a circulation of 230 thousand, you can read Mother Jones here and find more info about it here.

A search for the New York Times report on the Virden massacre, brings you to the current front page and today’s news. And if you had done that, as I did, on April 6, 2010, you would have come across the report on the mining accident in West Virginia, where 29 miners died.


Since humanity is in constant progress, news about miners in the 21st century are not about massacres, but accidents.

Let us lend an ear to Johnny Cash: Sixteen Tons

Additional info

The Rhondda Valley is in South Wales. It is no longer an important coal-mining site. Fred Stapleton’s painting shows us a different face of the valley, but there was a time when the valley was famous both for mining accidents and militant workers’ resistance. 112 miners died in accidents in 1856, 178 miners in 1867, 101 miners in 1880 and 120 miners in 1905. The workers of this region played a significant role in the founding of socialist and communist associations and parties in Britain. During the Spanish Civil War, many Rhondda men joined the International Brigades to fight against the fascists.

luzernHazleton, Pennsylvania, is a small mining town quite close to Lattimer. The population of Greater Hazleton today is around 80 thousand. In the film, there is a photograph showing miners from different nations. It was shot in Hazleton in the early 1900s. From 1870 to 1915, 15 million people emigrated from Europe to the United States. Hundred thousand of them were crammed into the mines of Luzerne County, which includes the town of Hazleton. They dreamed of saving money, buying land, and forming their own businesses, or farming the land. Very few of them succeeded.
In the late 19th century, Pennsylvania mining regions witnessed intense clashes between bosses and miners. It was alleged that the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society, carried out underground activity and armed actions to protect the Irish community and miners in the area, like breaking into the houses of foremen who tyrannized the miners, and even shooting them in broad daylight. The bosses’ response to this militant organization was to hire professional killers from private investigation companies and target workers. The counter-argument is that the bosses used the organization’s activities as a pretext to suppress the miners’ struggle for rights and continue their tyranny. The 1970 Martin Ritt film The Molly Maguires, based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis, stars Sean Connery as a leader of the organization and Richard Harris as an undercover detective who infiltrates the organization.

Talking of Virden, it is J.P. Fraley’s song titled “One Morning in May” playing in the background. J.P. Fraley, a Kentuckian fiddle-player and songwriter, sold mining tools and equipment for most of his life. He gained fame with his unique tone and style. His most famous tune is “Wild Rose of the Mountain”, recorded in the 1970s. During the part about the massacre monument we listen to “Coal Miner’s Song” by the Californian band Nico Vega. A hard-hitting trio with drums and guitar, but no bass. Their singer Aja Volkman’s style has been compared to Janis Joplin’s.

virden1920I corresponded with the website Tattered and Lost to obtain the 1920s photographs of Virden. It is a delightful site to spend some time browsing if you are interested in old photographs.
The days following the Virden massacre were not easy for the miners. The plot of the city cemetery they buried their friends in turned out to be private property and its owners did not want the striking miners there. The church did not want anything to do with it either. So the union purchased an acre of land and transferred the remains of the workers to this new plot. In 1936, the union bought a bigger piece of land and commissioned a mausoleum. We get a glimpse of this mausoleum in the film, but the one we see at length is not this mausoleum, its story belongs to the 2000s.


I became aware of the Virden Monument through Craig Newsom’s amazing photographs. I was naturally intrigued by the fact that 100 years after the massacre, and on the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Virden, the townsfolk had commissioned their resident bronze-master sculptor David Seagraves to create this monument. This is how I corresponded with and came to know Craig, and he sent me the photographs. Then I asked him for photographs of the Mother Jones gravesite memorial at Mount Olive, and he sent me those, too. We experienced a great example of internet solidarity. Craig is an artist and a lecturer at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. Click here to see his photographs, sculptures and drawings.

motherJonesMother Jones
(Mary Harris Jones, 1837-1930), was a teacher and dressmaker. After losing her husband and all four children to yellow fever, she dedicated her life to the labor movement. She took part in the organization of numerous strikes. She travelled from town to town to call on miners to join the union. She is a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World. “Get it straight, I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser!” she is known to have proclaimed at the age of 80 at a rally (She was Irish). Speaking to workers and their families, she stated: “I have never had a vote, and I have raised hell all over this country. You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!” Citing places where the union had not succeeded yet, she said, “Let me see them organized too, and then will I turn to the Lord and ask Him to take me!”

What is interesting about this New York Times news report from 13 October 1898 is that it includes the fact that the fire opened by workers received response from the black workers on the train, and that many blacks were injured, despite the fact that the report also frequently mentions the existence of armed guards on the train. Some of these guards fled in fear of retaliation from the workers, and this is also included in the report. This news item is a typical example of mainstream journalism that leans towards the employers but retains a concern for reporting the truth. In other words, it is quite slippery. Or should we say, “at least a concern for reporting the truth remains”? The difference between journalism in the West and in Turkey is not in the interests they protect, but the concern to preserve the legitimacy of the profession.