The Legacy of the Bunker Hill Mine
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There were 40 plates to a cartload, and we had to do eight cartloads in a shift. That meant that if you wanted a break or lunch you had to bust ass. If you missed your quota twice you were fired.
From time to time you would hear a popping sound, like a firecracker going off, from bad electrical connections. Once, when I was there, a whole bank of plates started popping and smoking, as if a full room of fireworks was going off at the same time. As As I ran, I could see other workers running in every direction through the dense smoke and sparks. Two workers were injured and carried off, then back to work we went to make our quotas.
It goes without saying that our working conditions were atrocious, and our pay was low. The parasitic union that held the contracts, ruled by the iron law of "union jurisdiction", was worse than worthless. While I was there rank-and-file zinc strippers held a number of meetings with the idea of forming their own union. There was always much talk of their resentment and distrust of the union, the United Steel Workers of America.
There was no love for this union that was forced upon them and cared not for the workers of the district. Though the thought of this little group of young zinc strippers taking on the sellout piecard I.W. Abel and the right wing USWA warmed my Wobbly heart, I knew there was no chance of success. At the first meeting I sat there not saying a word. For I had learned from past experience that a true labor organizer first listens before they open their trap. At the second meeting I spoke just once, and that was to say that the only way we could restore true unionism was to reach out to our fellow workers throughout the district.
Though nothing came of all this, other than a banding together of a number of young rebels to vent their frustration, it was interesting to see history making a full circle. For the union movement began with small groups of workers coming together against incredible odds.
Back in 1882, placer gold deposits were found along the banks of the Eagle and Prichard creeks. At this time, the U.S. government was forcing a treaty upon the Coeur d'Alene Indian Nation. The Coeur d'Alenes signed the treaty that forced them to live on a reservation, and the government agreed not to wipe them out. The treaty was sent to Congress, but they did not ratify it because the news of the finding of gold reached them. So the government forced the Coeur d'Alenes to give up all land in the Silver Valley.
The Northern Pacific Railroad exploited the situation by issuing their infamous "Circular No. 6" which made wild claims of gold in the valley and triggered a gold rush. Mining towns appeared almost overnight, but little gold was found. The Northern Pacific made a killing off transporting gold-crazed prospectors and supplies to the district. Though dreams of gold faded, it was the discovery of silver that made the valley the major metal production district in Idaho. Some gold was mined in the area later along with lead, zinc, copper and other metals.