The Legacy of the Bunker Hill Mine
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No miners ever doubted the inhuman greed of the mine owners. They knew that if they were injured, sick or killed, some other poor soul would take their place.
These early miners' unions had a lot of community support, not only because the miners made up a lot of these communities, but also because the mine owners callously endangered these communities for the sake of profits. The best example of this was in Butte where the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the open roasting of copper ore. This process had covered the town with noxious sulfurous fumes. In December of 1891 the Boston and Montana Company disregarded this ordinance and began roasting its ore in the open. Within 48 hours there were 15 deaths and many within the community were sick and confined to their beds.
The first miners' union was organize in the Silver Valley in 1887, but little about this union is known for its members and activities were all secret. Organizing at Bunker Hill was hard, and anyone thought to be sympathetic to unions, or raised their voice about anything was fired. It was not until the winter of 1887-88 that the union was able to lead its first strike at Bunker Hill. On New Year's Day of 1891 a central union organization for the Coeur d'Alene District was set up called the Central Executive Committee of the Miners' Union of the Coeur d'Alenes. Throughout 1891 and 1892 Miners' union halls were built in every mining town in the district.
The miners at Bunker Hill struck for a second time over the bosses' trickery in an election over health care. The company had agreed to hold the election, but when the miners looked at the ballot they found it only had the company supported options on it and left off the union supported Miners' Hospital. The strike not only won the Miners' Hospital, it also raised miners' pay to that of other union mines in the district.
Later that year the mine owners and the railroad began to fight with each other because the railroad had raised their shipping rates. That winter the Mine Owners' Association shut down most of the mines to try to force a reduction of the rates. A settlement was reached in March, but before the owners would let the miners go back to work they had to agree to a reduction in wages. Thus, the first district wide lock-out/strike came to be.
The owners brought in scabs to work the mines, leading to furious battles between union miners on one side and scabs, deputy sheriffs, gun thugs and the despised Pinkertons on the other side. The owners went to the state court and got an injunction against the union, and the governor ordered the miners to "disperse all unlawful assemblages and to cease interference with the mine owners." Miners fought back any way they could, for this battle was not over just wages and the ideas of unionism -- if the union was broken the effect of that would be counted in dead and crippled miners. Gun battles were fought, mills were dynamited, people died on both sides of this class war.
The mine owners tried to bring in scabs from Missouri and Michigan by train, but armed union miners met the train load of scabs and forced them to turn back. On July 11, armed union miners confronted scabs and gun thugs at the heavily barricaded Frisco mine. After a firefight the union miners loaded an ore car full of dynamite and sent it down the incline toward the mine, but it blew up short of its goal. Then they tried again and blew up the four-story wooden structure in front of the mine. After that the scabs and gun thugs surrendered under a white flag. After that firefights broke out at other mines and a short time later all the scabs were run out of the district.