In 1898, the town of Virden, Illinois advertised for 175 black coal miners to leave Birmingham on September 22nd, in order to work the mines in Illinois. However, the intent was that they be involved in the labor union strike which became a deadly battle known as the Massacre of Virden on October 12th, 1898. This October will be the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Virden in which they were involved, and the Union Miners Cemetery and Mother Jones Museum is seeking any information on these men to enrich the education of those attending their anniversary celebration. Did you know them?
Today, (125 years) after the bloody Battle of Virden, there is an even more pressing need to explain how this intense battle came about, who the union fighters were, what they achieved, and failed to achieved, and why the lessons of Virden are still relevant to working people today.
Mother Jones was a fearless fighter for workers’ rights and wanted to be known as the ‘mother of all agitators’. She is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery and is the namesake for the museum where the anniversary event will be held.
“In 1897, the United Mine Workers launched a strike for a living wage in the coal fields. Jones was a strategic part of the union since that time. For her, it was more than about union contract. She argued that ordinary miners should direct their economic destiny and that the public should own the coal and natural resources, not corporations. She believed in organizing at the community level to demonstrate workers capacity for managing their destiny. She believed that the so-called unskilled worker, immigrants and African-Americans should be the base of the new movement. She put women and children at the center of struggles in the coal fields, making a family-based movement.
One of the Jones’ key contributions was building workers’ commitment to unionism that bridged racial and ethnic divisions.”Excerpted from Mother Jones Museum