Mother Jones Speaks to Striking Coal Miners

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by MaryHarris

This, my friends, marks, in my estimation, the most remarkable move ever made in the State of West Virginia. It is a day that will mark history in the long ages to come. What is it? It is an uprising of the oppressed against the master class.

From this day on, my friends, Virginia - West Virginia - shall march in the front of the Nation's States. To me, I think, the proper thing to do is to read the purpose of our meeting here today - why these men have laid down their tools, why these men have come to the statehouse.

[Jones reads from letter]

To His Excellency
Governor of the State of West Virginia:

It is respectfully represented unto your excellency that the owners of the various coal mines doing business along the valley of Cabin Creek, Kanawha County, W. Va., are maintaining and have at present in their employ a large force of armed guards, armed with Winchesters, a dangerous and deadly weapon; also having in their possession three Gatling guns, which they have stationed at commanding positions overlooking the Cabin Creek Valley, which said weapons said guards use for the purpose of browbeating, intimidating, and menacing the lives of all the citizens who live in said valley, who are not in accord with the management of the coal companies, which guards are cruel, and their conduct toward the citizens is such that it would be impossible to give a detailed account of.

Therefore, suffice it to say, however, that they beat, abuse, maim, and hold up citizens without process of law; deny freedom of speech, a provision guaranteed by the Constitution; deny the citizens the right to assemble in a peaceable manner for the purpose of discussing questions in which they are concerned. Said guards also hold up a vast body of laboring men who live at the mines, and so conduct themselves that a great number of men, women, and children live in a state of constant fear, unrest, and dread. We hold that the stationing of said guards along the public highways and public places is a menace to the general welfare of the State. That such action on the part of the companies in maintaining such guards is detrimental to the best interests of society and an outrage against the honor and dignity of the State of West Virginia.

[Interrupted by loud applause.]

As citizens interested in the public weal and general welfare, and believing that law and order and peace should ever abide, that the spirit of brotherly love and justice and freedom should everywhere exist, we must tender our petition that you would bring to bear all the powers of your office as chief executive of this State for purpose of disarming said guards and restoring to the citizens of said valley all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and said State.

In duty bound, in behalf of the miners of the State of West Virginia.

[Jones puts down the letter.]

I want to say, with all due respect to the Governor - I want to say to you that the Governor will not, can not, do anything, for this reason: The governor was placed in this building by Scott and Elkins, and he don't dare oppose them. Therefore you are asking the governor of the State to do something that he can not do without betraying the class he belongs to.

I remember the Governor in a state, when Grover Cleveland was perched in the White House - Grover Cleveland said he would send the federal troops out [to protect the miners], and the Governor of that state said, "Will you? If you do, I will meet your federal troops with the state troops, and we will have it out." Old Grover never sent the troops; he took back water...

You see, my friends, how quickly the Governor sent his militia when the coal operators got scared to death...

They wouldn't keep their dog where they keep you fellows. You know that. They have a good place for their dogs and a slave to take care of them. The mine owners' wives will take the dogs up, and say, "I love you, dea-h" [imitating a mine owner's wife]. My friends the day for petting dogs is gone; the day for raising children to a nobler manhood and better womanhood is here! You have suffered; I know you have suffered. I was with you nearly three years in this State. I went to jail. I went to the Federal courts, but I never took any back water! I still unfurl the red flag of industrial freedom; no tyrant's face shall you know, and I call you today into that freedom - long perch on the bosom -

[Interrupted by applause.]

I am back again to find you, my friends, in a state of industrial peonage...

We will prepare for the job, just like Lincoln and Washington did. We took lessons from them, and we are here to prepare for the job.

Well, when I came out on the public road [to get to the rally] the superintendent - you know the poor salary slave - he came out and told me that there were notaries public there, and a squire - one had a peg leg - and the balance had pegs in their skulls!


They forbid me speaking on the highway, and said that if I didn't discontinue I would be arrested.

Well, I want to tell you one thing, I don't run into jail, but when the bloodhounds undertake to put me in jail I will go there. I have gone there. I would have had the little peg-leg squire arrest me, only I knew this meeting was going to be pulled off to-day, to let the world know what was going on in West Virginia. When I get through with them, by the Eternal God, they will be glad to let me alone.

I am not afraid of jails. We [will] build jails, and when we get ready, we will put them behind the bars!...

Now, brothers, not in all the history of the labor movement have I got such an inspiration as I have got from you here to-day. Your banners are history; they will go down to the future ages, to the children unborn, to tell them the slave has risen, children must be free.

The labor movement was not originated by man. The labor movement, my friends, was a command from God Almighty. He commanded the prophets thousands of years ago to go down and redeem the Israelites that were in bondage, and he organized the men into a union and went to work. And they said, "The masters have made us gather straw; they have been more cruel than they were before. What are we going to do?" The prophet said, "A voice from heaven has come down to get you together." They got together and the prophet led them out of the land of bondage and robbery and plunder into the land of freedom. And when the army of the pirates followed them the Dead Sea opened and swallowed them up, and for the first time the workers were free.

And so it is. That can well be applied to the State of West Virginia...

I hope, my friends, that you and the mine owners will put aside the breach and get together before I leave the State. But I want to say, make no settlement until they sign up that every bloody murderer of a guard has got to go. This is done, my friends, beneath the flag our fathers fought and bled for, and we don't intend to surrender our liberty.

I have a document issued 18 years ago telling how they must handle the labor movement - pat them on the back; make them believe that they were your devoted friends. I hold that document, taken from their statement in Washington. It plainly states, "We have got to crucify them, but we have got to do it cunningly." And they have been doing it cunningly...

Oh you men of wealth! Oh you preachers! You are going over to China and sending money over there for Jesus. For God's sake, keep it at home; we need it. Let me tell you, them fellows are owned body and soul by the ruling class, and they would rather take a year in hell with Elkins than ninety-nine in heaven. Do you find a minister preaching against the guards? He will preach about Jesus, but not about the guards.

When we were crossing the bridge at [the] Washington [coal mines] the bloodhounds were at the company store. The bloodhounds might have thrown me into the river and I wouldn't have known it. The [miners] were hollering "Police! Police!" I said, "What is the matter with you?" They said, "Oh God! Murder! Murder!" Another [miner] came out, and his feet never touched the sidewalk.

My boys came running to me and said, "Oh, Mother, they are killing the boys..." I said, "Call them boys here." Then [the guards left]; they thought I had an army with me. Then I picked up a boy streaming with blood where the hounds had beat him.

You are to blame. You have voted for the whole gang of commercial pirates every time you get a chance to free yourselves. It is time to clean them up...

If your sheriff had done his duty as a citizen of this State and according to his oath, he would have disarmed the guards and then there would have been no more trouble. Just make me governor for one month. I won't ask for a sheriff or policeman, and I will do business, and there won't be a guard [remaining] in the State of West Virginia. The mine owners won't take 69,000 pounds of coal in dockage off of you fellows. Sixty-nine thousand pounds of coal they docket you for, and a few pounds of slate, and then they give to Jesus on Sunday.

They give your missionary women a couple of hundred dollars and rob you under pretense of giving to Jesus. Jesus never sees a penny of it, and never heard of it. They use it for the women to get a jag on and then go and hollow for Jesus. I wish I was God Almighty! I would throw down some night from heaven and get rid of the whole blood-sucking bunch!

I want to show you here that the average wages you fellows get in this country is $500 a year. Before you get a thing to eat there is $20 taken out a month, which leaves about $24 a month. Then you go to the "pluck-me" stores and want to get something to eat for your wife, and you are off that day, and the child comes back and says, "Papa, I can't get anything."

"Why," he says, "there is $4 coming to me?"

The child says, "they said there was nothing coming to you." And the child goes back crying without a mouthful of anything to eat. The father goes to the "pluck-me" store and says to the manager, "there is $4 coming to me," and the manager says, "Oh, no, we have kept that for rent. You are charged $6 a month, and there are only three days gone, [and there] is a rule that two-thirds of the rent is to be kept if there is only one day."

That is honesty? Do you wonder these women starve? Do you wonder at this uprising? And you fellows have stood it entirely too long! It is time now to put a stop to it! We will give the Governor until to-morrow night to take them guards out of Cabin Creek.

Here on the steps of the Capitol of West Virginia...I want to tell you that the Governor will get until tomorrow night, Friday night, to get rid of his bloodhounds, and if they are not gone, we will get rid of them!

Aye men, aye men, inside of this building, aye women, come with me and see the horrible pictures, see the horrible condition the ruling class has put these women in. Aye, they destroy women. Look at those little children, the rising generation, yes, look at the little ones, yes, look at the women assaulted...I have worked, boys, I have worked with you for years. I have seen the suffering children, and, in order to be convinced, I went into the mines on the night shift and day shift and helped the poor wretches to load coal at times. We lay down at noon, and we took our lunches, and we talked our wrongs over. We gathered together at night and asked, "how will we remedy things?" We organized secretly and, after a while, held public meetings. We got our people together in those organized states...I don't care about your woman suffrage and the temperance brigade or any other of you class associations, I want women of the coming day to discuss and find out the cause of child crucifixion, that is what I want to find out.

I have worked in the factories of Georgia and Alabama, and these bloodhounds were tearing the hands off of children and working them 14 hours a day until I fought for them. They made them put up every Saturday money for missionary work in China. I know what I am talking about. I am not talking haphazard, I have the goods.

Go down, men of to-day, who rob and exploit, go down into hell and look at the ruins you have put there, look at the jails. We pay $6,000,000 a year to chain men like demons in a bastille - and we call ourselves civilized. Six million dollars a year we pay for jails, and nothing for education.

I have been to jail more than once, and I expect to go again. If you [addressing crowd] are too cowardly to fight, I will fight. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, actually to the Lord you ought, just to see one old woman who is not afraid of all the bloodhounds. How scared those villains are when one woman 80 years old, with her head grey, can come in and scare hell out of the whole bunch! We didn't scare them? The mine owners run down the street like a mad dog today.

They ask who started this thing. I started it, I did it, and I am not afraid to tell you if you are here, and I will start more before I leave West Virginia. I started this mass today, I had these banners written, and don't accuse anybody else of this job.

It is freedom or death, and your children will be free. We are not going to leave a slave class to the coming generation, and I want to say to you that the next generation will not charge us for what we've done; they will charge and condemn us for what we have left undone.

...Yes; we have no fears of them at all. I was put out at 12 o'clock at night - and landed with 5 cents in my pocket - by seven bayonets in the State of Colorado. The Governor told me - he is a corporation rat, you know - he told me never to come back. A man is a fool, if he is a Governor, to tell a woman not to do a thing. I went back the next day, and I have been back since to fight, and he hasn't bothered me. He has learned it won't do to tamper with women of the right metal!...

Now, my boys, you are mine; we have fought together, we have hungered together, we have marched together, but I can see victory in the Heavens for you. I can see the hand above you guiding and inspiring you to move onward and upward. No white flag - we can not raise it; we must not raise it. We must redeem the world!

Go into our factories, see how the conditions are there, see how women are ground up for the merciless money pirates, see how many of the poor wretches go to work with crippled bodies.

I talked with a mother who had her small children working. She said to me, "Mother, they are not of age, but I had to say they were; I had to tell them they were of age so they could get a chance to help me to get something to eat." She said after they were there for a little while, "I have saved $40, the first I ever saw. I put that into a cow and we had some milk for the little ones." In all the years her husband had put in the earth digging out wealth, he never got a glimpse of $40 until he had to take his infant boys, that ought to go to school, and sacrifice them.

If there was no other reason that should stimulate every man and woman to fight this damnable system of commercial pirates. That alone should do it, my friends.

Is there a committee here? I want to take a committee of the well-fed fellows and well-dressed fellows; I want to present this to the Governor. Be very polite. Don't get on your knees. Get off your knees and stand up. None of these fellows are better than you, they are only flesh and blood - that is the truth...

I will give the press a copy of this resolution and this petition, that was given to the Governor.

Now, my boys...I am going up Cabin Creek. I am going to hold meetings there. I am going to claim the right of an American citizen.

I was on this earth before these operators were. I was in this country before these operators. I have been 74 years under this flag. I have got the right to talk. I have seen its onward march. I have seen the growth of oppression, and I want to say to you, my friends, I am going to claim my right as a citizen of this Nation, I won't violate the law; I will not kill anybody or starve anybody; but I will talk unsparingly of all the corporation bloodhounds we can bring to jail.

I have no apologies to offer. I have seen your children murdered; I have seen you blown to death in the mines, and there was no redress. A fellow in Colorado says, "Why don't you prop the mines?" The operator said, "Oh, hell; Dagoes are cheaper than props!" Every miner is a Dago with the blood-sucking pirates, and they are cheaper than props, because if they kill a hundred of you, well, it was your fault; there must be a mine inspector kept there.

The night before the little Johnson boys were killed the mine inspector - John Laing is the mine owner; he wouldn't inspect them - the mine inspector went there and said the mines are propped securely. The next morning the little Johnson children went to work, and when they were found, their hands were clasped in their dinner buckets with two biscuits.

You work for Laing day after day! He is a mine inspector, but he wouldn't be if I had anything to say about it. He would take a back seat!

Boys, I want to say to you, obey the law. Let me say to the Governor and let me say to the mine owners - let me say to all people - that I will guarantee there will be no destruction of property. In the first place, that is our property. It is inside where our jobs are. We have every reason to protect it. In the mines is where our jobs are. We are not out to destroy property; we are out to preserve and protect property, and I will tell you why. We are going to get more wages, and we are going to stop the docking system! Put that down [Jones points to a reporter in the crowd]. Your day for docking is done! ...If they don't stop it, we will!

We'll take care of the property; there will be no property destroyed. Not a bit; and if you want your property protected these miners will protect it for you, and they won't need a gun.

We will protect it at the risk of our lives. I know the miners; I have marched with 10,000 - 20,000 - and destroyed no property. We had 20,000 miners in Pennsylvania, but destroyed no property... I will tell you why we are not going to destroy your property, Mr. Governor: Because one of these days we are going to take over the mines. That is what we are going to do; we are going to take over those mines.

The Government has a mine in North Dakota. It works eight hours - not a minute more. There are no guards, no police, no militia. The men make $125 a month, and there is never any trouble at that mine. Uncle Sam is running the job, and he is a pretty good mine inspector...

I want you to listen a moment. I want the business men to listen. You business men are up against it. There is a great revolution going on in the industrial world. The Standard Oil Company owns 86 great department stores in this country. The small business man is beginning to be eliminated. He has got to get down, he can't get up. It is like Carnegie said before the Tariff Commission in Washington. "Gentlemen, I am not bothered about tariff on steel rails." He says, "what concerns me and my class is the right to organize." ...Carnegie said that in a few years, he went into the business with $5,000; he took $7,500. He said he knew the time was ripe for steel bridges, and he went into it. He closed out his interest for $300,000,000.

Do you wonder that the steel workers are robbed? When one thief alone can take $300,000,000 and give to a library - to educate our skulls because you didn't get a chance to educate them yourselves.

A fellow said, "I don't think we ought to take those libraries." Yes, take them, and let him build libraries in every town in the country. It is your money. Yet he comes and constructs those libraries as living monuments reddened with the blood of men, women, and children that he robbed.

How did he make $300,000,000? Come with me to Homestead, and I will show you the graves reddened with the blood of men, women, and children. That is where we fixed the Pinkertons, and they have never rose from that day to this. And we will fix the Baldwins in West Virginia. The Pinkertons were little poodle dogs for the operators. We will fix the Baldwins just the same...

Senator Dick said, when I met him, "I am delighted to see you, 'Mother' Jones." I said, "I am not delighted to see you." He said, "What is the matter?" I said, "You have passed the Dick military bill to shoot my class down, that is why I wouldn't shake hands with you." That is the way to do business with those fellows. All the papers in the country wrote it up, and he was knocked down off his perch. I will knock a few of these Senators down before I die!


...Be good; don't drink, only a glass of beer.

The parasite blood-suckers will tell you not to drink beer, because they want to drink it all, you know. They are afraid to tell you to drink for fear there will not be enough for their carcass.

[Someone from the crowd cries "the Governor drinks champagne!"]

He needs it. He gets it from you fellows. He ought to drink it. You pay for it, and as long as he can get it for nothing, any fellow would be a fool not to drink it...

I want you to keep the peace until I tell you to move, and when I want you every one will come. Now, be good. I don't tell you to go and work for Jesus. Work for yourselves; work for bread. That is the fight we have got. Work for bread. They own our bread.

This fight that you are in is the great industrial revolution that is permeating the heart of men over the world. They see behind the clouds the star that rose in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago, that is bringing the message of a better and nobler civilization. We are facing the hour. We are in it, men, the new day; we are here facing that star that will free men and give to the Nation a nobler, grander, higher, truer, purer, better manhood. We are standing on the eve of that mighty hour when the motherhood of the Nation will rise, and instead of clubs and picture shows or excursions, she will devote her life to the training of the human mind, giving to the Nation great men and great women.

I see that hour. I see the star breaking your chains...

I know of the wrongs of humanity; I know your aching backs; I know your swimming heads; I know your little children suffer; I know your wives. I have gone in and found her dead and found the babe nursing at the dead breast, and found the little girl 11 years old taking care of three children. She said, "Mother, will you wake up, baby is hungry and crying?" When I laid my hand on mamma she breathed her last. And the child of 11 had to become a mother to the children.

Oh, men [speaking of mine owners], have you any hearts? Oh, men, do you feel? Oh, men, do you see the judgment day on the throne above, when you will be asked, "where did you get your gold?"

You stole it from these wretches. You murdered, you assassinated, you starved, you burned them to death, that you and your wives might have palaces, and that your wives might go to the seashore. Oh God, men, when I see the horrible picture, when I see the children with their hands off, when I took an army of babies and walked a hundred and thirty miles with a petition to the President of the United States, to pass a bill in Congress to keep these children from being murdered for profit. He had a secret service then all the way to the palace. And now they want to [re-elect] that man! What is the American Nation coming to?

Manhood, womanhood, can you stand for it? They put reforms in their platforms, but [we] get no reform. [Roosevelt] promised everything to labor. When we had the strike in Colorado he sent 200 guns to blow our brains out. I don't forget. You do, but I don't. And our women were kicked out like dogs at the point of the bayonet. That is America. They don't do it in Russia. Some women get up with $5 worth of paint on their cheeks and have tooth brushes for their dogs and say, "oh, them horrible miners. Oh, that horrible old Mother Jones, that horrible old woman."

I am horrible! I admit, and I want to be to you blood-sucking pirates!

I want you, my boys, to buckle on your armor. This is a fighting age; this is not the age for cowards; put them out of the way. Take your medicine [Governor], because we are going to get after you, no doubt about it.

[Cries from the crowd "Give it to them!"]

Yes, I will.

[Cries again "Give it to them!"]

I want you to be good. Give the Governor time until to-morrow night, and, if he don't act then it is up to you. We have all-day Saturday, all-day Sunday, all-day Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday if we need it.

We are used to living on little; we can take a crust of bread in our hands and go.

Boys, stay quiet until tomorrow night. I think it would be a good thing to work tomorrow, because the mine owners will need it. The mine commissioner will get a pain in his skull to-night and his wife will give him some "dope." The mine owner's wife is away at the seashore. When she finds no more money coming she will say, "ss there any more money coming?" He will say, "most of the miners are not working." She will say, "take the guards and shoot them back into the mines, those horrible fellows."

The Governor says, if you don't go to work, said he, in the mines or on the railroads, I am going to call the militia, and I will shoot you...I said we can get ready too.

What militia can you get to fight us? Those boys on Paint Creek wouldn't fight us if all the governors in the country wanted you to. I was going yesterday to take dinner with them, but I had something else to do. I am going some day to take dinner with them, and I will convert the whole bunch to my philosophy. I will get them all my way.

Now, be good, boys.

[Jones reaches for a hat in the crowd.]

Pass the hat around, some of these poor devils want a glass of beer. Get the hat. The mine owner robs them. Get a hat you fellows of the band...

Another thing I want you to do: I want you to go in regular parade, three or four together. The moving-picture man wants to get your picture to send over the country.

[Someone in the crowd asks what the collection is being taken for.]

The hat is for miners who came up here broke, and they want to get a glass of beer. And to pay their way back - and to get a glass of beer. I will give you $5. Get a move on, and get something in it...

The National Government will get a record of this meeting. They will say, my friends, this was a peaceful, law-abiding meeting. They will see men of intelligence, that they are not out to destroy but to build. And instead of the horrible homes you have got we will build on their ruins homes for you and your children to live in, and we will build them on the ruins of the dog kennels which they wouldn't keep their mules in. That will bring forth better ideas than the world has had. The day of oppression will be gone. I will be with you whether true or false. I will be with you at midnight or when the battle rages, when the last bullet ceases, but I will be in my joy, as an old saint said:

O, God, of the mighty clan, God grant that the woman who suffered for you, Suffered not for a coward, but oh, for a man. God grant that the woman who suffered for you, Suffered not for a coward, but oh, for a fighting man.

[Senator Charles Dick (R-OH), Chairman of the Committee on Militia and member of the Mines & Mining Committee, introduced legislation in 1902 to increase the size of state militia, which had been used by governors of several states to break strikes forcibly and quell labor disturbances.]

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