A Walk through the Twentieth Century: The Miners’ Story, A Reflection
BEFORE: Ludlow Tent Colony
AFTER: Ludlow Tent Colony
Before World War I ensued, tension was rising in the United Sates because of civil unrest especially among workers. The rich families were getting richer while the working class struggled to keep a job that is beyond repulsive with inhumane working conditions, low wages and high fatality rate because of extreme working environment with minimal or no regard for safety. The documentary film, Out of the Depths-The Miner's Story showcases in vivid detail the hardships and struggles of miners and their families. The Colorado miners in particular have to endure dangerous work sites in mines without the proper safety equipments. They are paid in script which could be traded in for food and basic necessities at the company owned store.
When the miners could no longer tolerate the hard labor and cheap pay, they decided to organize a union that will help air their grievances toward the company in hopes of making changes for the benefit of the employees, miners, and the employer--Rockefeller Family.
In 1913 the miners attempted to form a union to demand a fair compensation on their work and to abolish script and truck system, payment of salary made in lawful money, and to end discrimination of union leaders. However, the strike did not get the sympathy of the Rockefeller and even enraged the family that they drive out the striking miners and families. The homeless miners faced with the Colorado winter put up a “tent city.” Their resilience and perseverance enraged even the government of Colorado and in 1914, massacred women and children in an attempt to stomp the efforts of the minor and union leaders. To show solidarity, workers from around the country went on strike to show sympathy for the victims and their families. However, the union still failed to be recognized. Formation of unions was discouraged through rule of violence. Those identified to be union leaders were abducted, tortured, and killed.
Somehow the film showed how different labor relations were a century ago. The film was a gruesome reminder on how the rights of workers and the underprivileged are easily thwarted by the powerful few. Their cries for a safer and workable area were unheeded. They are treated as if animals working the field. It was a sad and dark times for America.
The birth of work unions are in response to the hardships they faced. Work unions became an avenue for employee concerns to be appropriately sent to the employer in a manner that is both agreeable to the parties involved. But during those times, the employer has the ultimate say in the matter. Workers have no right to complain about their working condition, they do not have the right to complain about the wages and the script system; they have to accept whatever it is that the company subjects them into. Because they are the worker, they are the ones who ‘needed’ the ‘help’ of the company.
But in reality, it is a symbiotic working relationship. The employer gets to have the work force or the man power to keep the company running while the employee benefits through the need of the company for human labor. It’s a cycle of co-dependence wherein take one part of the equation and the other part will not survive.
However, this was not the case for the miners and the Rockefellers’. The company ruled and the miners followed. Even if the demands are extremely high and the compensation for the labor is very low. To add salt to injury, the script system limits the miners to buy their goods in the company-owned store. Ergo, the money never left the Rockefellers. And the negative sentiments against the family grew until it can no longer be contained and action has to be done to stop the inhumane treatment of workers. People could only take too much suffering. Upon reaching the breaking point, it was expected that all the bottled emotion, anger, frustration and all other negative feelings tend to come out in one blow.
If not for the efforts and sacrifices of the miners and labor union leaders, the quality and provisions of labor relations today might not be the same.
The economic aspect of business production must have fueled the Rockefellers’ strong resentment towards their miners especially on the idea of a union. The union must have been seen as a threat to the company and on how things are being managed. The Rockefellers’ want a tight grip on its miners in belief that they could drive them and push them to work more beyond humanly possible. After all, more work means more production. More products meant more income being generated.
Today, labor relations are recognized as the right of the employees. The government made sure that provisions regarding the harmonious and fair working conditions are upheld at all times. It provides the check and balance between employee and the company so that both parties could move forward to achieve common goals.
Unions are a way or an avenue for employees to air their grievances, express their difficulties in the company and suggest improvement on how the company could improve its management in terms of systematizing the relationship between the employees and to make sure that everyone are treated fairly and equally. Though it seems as if it only benefits the employee, the employer actually equally benefits from this set up. It provides the company insights on the collective sentiments of its employee that could help them in improving their internal system in terms of labor relations. Happy and contented employees work more productively and efficiently compared to disgruntled and unsatisfied ones.
More by this Author
China Blue (Peled, 2005) is a documentary film about Chinese immigrants from rural provinces of China to the city of Guangdong to work on sweatshops.
“The Cove” is an environmental movie documentary set on exposing the dolphin trade and why the public needs to act against it with such urgency.
The role and contribution of the steel industry in the United States and how it lead to economic growth and technological spillover.