Historically speaking

Labor unrest seen on the Marquette Iron Range

ISHPEMING — A mere four years after the Great Strike of 1895, rumblings of discontent were once again heard across the Marquette Iron Range.

“The mining companies of the city of Ishpeming inform (the) Iron Ore that they will raise wages of all employees on the first of March next. This is good news for the men who work in the mines as well as for all the people of this community. The more the men receive the better it is for them and all who surround them.” (Iron Ore, February 4, 1899)

But whatever increase the miners received, for some, it was not enough. “During the past few days, it has become obvious that something was working among the men employed in and about the mines here to render them restless and dissatisfied, and vague rumors of impending trouble have been heard. It was difficult to learn the cause of the discontent, but that there was an interruption of the good feeling that has existed between the companies and their employees for the past couple of years was denoted by the frequent conferences between the men and the care they took to guard against having outsiders permitted to glean any information on the subjects they discussed with such earnestness and obvious desire to preserve their plans from becoming public.

It is no longer a secret that the men are preparing to demand a higher wage rate. They are no longer satisfied with the advance announced in the early part of February and are considering the advisability of asking yet a further increase.” (Mining Journal, March 6, 1899)

For many, it seemed like a repeat of 1895, with one major, glaring difference. This time many of the miners were part of the Mine Workers Union.

“The Mine Worker’s union has, thorough the persuasion of its officials, taken the matter of making this demand in hand, this having been practically decided on at a meeting held Saturday evening, which meeting was called by the officers of the union.” (Mining Journal, March 6, 1899)

“There is a close similarity between the conditions then (1895) and those existing today. The market price of ore is still low and the mines of this county are not in a position to force an advance. The selling price has already been fixed for the current season, and the advance in wages announced in February covered a good part of the small increase in the price of ore. Much of what remains will go to the transportation lines in the form of an increased charge for lake haulage this year, and more will go to meet the increased cost of mining supplies of all kinds, so the companies will not really be any better off in 1899 in the mater of profit than they were in 1898.” (Mining Journal, March 6, 1899)

“The mere suggestion of the possibility of labor trouble here has stirred up a storm of discussion and apprehension. The year ’95 with its strike and attendant excitement is by no means a thing of the dimly remembered past here. The ten weeks’ siege of trouble and excitement was considered enough to last for a generation and a repetition of the experience is generally dreaded. (Mining Journal, March 7, 1899)

A letter with the demands of the union was swiftly sent to the mining companies with an answer requested by the next evening.

“There is absolutely no question as to the treatment the communication from the union will receive at the hands of the companies. It will meet the same fate that has befallen all other demands bearing the official seal of that body. It will be ignored. What will follow is problematical. In some quarters it is believed there will be an immediate walk out and that the strike will be started with all the suddenness that marked that of ’95. Another opinion is that a session of the union will be immediately called to decide on further steps in the matter. This will probably be what will happen.

After its officers find that their communication has been ignored it remains to be seen whether or not they will call the men out. It looks as if the union has taken a position which will require it to call out the men or accept a black eye that will forever destroy its influence here.” (Mining Journal, March 8, 1899)

While the question of a strike was pondered in certain circles, the possibility of such an action was having an effect in other quarters.

“The merchants are already complaining that the disturbed state of feeling here has affected business. One of the leading businessmen of the city said Tuesday that business was the slowest it has been in months, and he attributes its condition to the fact that the people here are unsettled as a result of the apprehension of a walkout. It is a noticeable fact that the mere talk of a walkout perceptibly affected business. The businessmen are considerably discouraged, as they counted on the present season being the most prosperous they have had for several years.” (Mining Journal, March 9, 1899)

“The feeling about the city yesterday was generally of relief. After the peaceable meeting held Wednesday evening it is not believed that there is any great danger of a walkout. The meeting was largely attended but very quiet and conservative. It is understood that the expressions were not generally in favor of a strike. The member of the state board of arbitration present, T.H. Roberts, exercised a most salutary influence over the men and he was directed to confer with the officials of the various mine.” (Mining Journal, March 10, 1899)

While the immediate threat of a strike was no longer looming in Ishpeming, the Mine Workers Union was not finished, and the threat of a strike would shortly be revived.


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