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Mother Jones

(Mary Harris Jones),

Speech to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA)

July 19, 1902

Excerpts from a Digitized Text  at the American Catholic History Classroom.

The United Mine Workers of America held a convention in July 1902 to decide how to support strikes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Mother Jones was one of the speakers.  She had a sweet and grandmotherly look, but she was a fiery and effective speaker.  Because of her power to inspire workers to strike for justice in the workplace, a judge had recently called her "the most dangerous woman in America"; describing herself as a "hell-raiser," she encouraged workers to join together and to act "like men."  

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I have been wondering whether this great gathering of wealth producers thoroughly comprehended the importance of their mission here today. . . . The eyes of the people of the United States, from one end to the other, are watching you; but you have again given lesson to the world and a lesson to the statesmen . . . that you will resort to all peaceful, conservative methods before you rise and enter the final protest.

I am one of those who, taking all the conditions into consideration . . . would have voted for a gigantic protest.  I wanted the powers that be to understand who the miners were; to understand that when they laid down their picks they tied up all other industries, and then the operators would learn what an important factor the miner is toward his support. . . .

These fights must be won if it costs the whole country to win them.  These fights against the oppressor and the capitalists, the ruling classes, must be won if it takes us all to do it.  . . .

This generation may sleep its slumber quietly, not feeling its mighty duty and responsibility, and may quietly surrender their liberties.  And it looks very much as though they were doing so.  These liberties are the liberties for which our forefathers fought and bled.  Things are happening today that would have aroused our  Revolutionary fathers in their graves.  People sleep quietly, but it is the sleep of the slave chained closely to his master.  If this generation surrenders its liberties, then the work of our forefathers, which we will lose by doing this, will not be resurrected for two generations to come.  Then perhaps the people will wake up and say to their feudal lords "We protest," and they will inaugurate one of those revolutions that sometimes come when the slave feels there is no hope, and then proceed to tear society to pieces.

My friends, it is solidarity of labor we want.  We do not want to find fault with each other, but to solidify our forces and say to each other:  "We must be together; our masters are joined together and we must do the same thing." . . .

[Mother Jones told the convention about her recent arrest after working to organize coal miners in West Virginia.  At the trial,]  the judge told me that if I would go out of the state and stay out, and be a good girl generally, he would leave me alone.  I asked my lawyer to tell him for me that I said all the devils in hell would not get me out of West Virginia while I had my duty there to perform.  I said I was there to stay, and if I died in West Virginia in jail it made no difference with my decision.  . . .

Let me warn you right here and now that any fellow who is not willing to go up against all these forces had better stay [out] of West Virginia; don't go over there, for we don't want you unless you are willing.  We want fighters, although we are conducting our business on peaceful lines and according to the Constitution of the United States. . . .

My friends, you must emancipate the miners of West Virginia; they should be the barometer for you in the future.  You have a task; go bravely home and take it up like men.  Each one of you should constitute himself a missionary, each one should do his duty as a miner and as a member of this organization.  Do your duty also as citizens of the United States, do your duty as men who feel a responsibility upon you, and remember, friends, that it is better to die an uncrowned free man than a crowned slave.  You and I must protest against this injustice to the American people that we are suffering under in West Virginia and in Pennsylvania, and in other fields. . . .

One of the best elements [in the West Virginia conflict], I am here to tell you, are the colored men.  One of the best fellows we have is the black man.  He knows what liberty is; he knows that in days gone by the bloodhounds went after his father over the mountains and tore him to pieces, and he knows that his own Mammy wept and prayed for liberty.  For these reasons he prizes his liberty and is ready to fight for it.  My friends, the most of us have been told that we have liberty, and we believed the people who told us that!

Now, my friends, we shaould all work together in harmony to secure our rights.  Don't find fault with each other; rather clasp hands and fight the battle together.  Be true to the teachings of your forefathers who fought and bled and raised the old flag that we might always shout for liberty.  . . . The history of the miner has been bitter and sore; he has traveled the highways and the byways to build up this magnificent organization, and let me beg of you, in God's holy name and in the name of the old flag, let the organization be used for the uplifting of the human race, but do not use it for the uplifting of yourself.  Be true to your manhood; be true to your country; be true to the children yet unborn.

Now I want to say to you here that whether I died in jail or outside, I want to feel in the closing hours of my life that you have been true to each other, that you have been true to the principles of our forefathers.  If you are true to these things the battle will end in victory for you.

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