Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pause on Christmas Eve to Remember Labor's Mottor After Mass Tragedy -- Justice, Not Charity

Michigan has more than its share of big moments in labor history -- the Flint sit-down strike and the Battle of the Overpass stand out.

Christmas Eve 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of another moment in labor history that must not be forgotten.

In the early 20th century, copper mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula were booming. Copper was in high demand as the United States electrified its cities, businesses, and homes. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Co. was raking in money off the backs of immigrants who were forced to work 10-hour days, six days a week in dark, dangerous conditions for subsistence wages. In 1913, the company came up with a way to make even more money by eliminating the jobs of about half the workers. It instituted the use of a 150-pound drill that would be operated by only one worker instead of two. Not only would jobs be lost, but a worker injured on the job would be alone in the dark mines. The job was already the most dangerous in the nation at the time, with fatality rates of one out of every 200 workers.

The Western Federation of Miners organized the mine workers and in the summer of 2013 the local workers decided to strike. The work stoppage dragged on through the fall and into winter as C&H brought in scabs to try to break the strike. With just $23,000 in its strike fund when the stoppage began, the union was no match for the deep pockets of C&H, which was backed by an army of company thugs and the Michigan National Guard.

Living in cold homes with nothing to eat, the strikers held on. To try to bring a little cheer to the families, a party was organized for Christmas Eve in the upstairs room at the Italian Hall in Calumet. As many as 700 people were crowded into the hall, singing Christmas carols as small gifts solicited from area merchants were given out to the children..

Suddenly, someone came to the top of the steps and yelled, "Fire." There was no fire, but the alarm set off a stampede for the narrow stairway to the exit. Someone fell on the stairs and then more people, bodies piled up in the stairwell,suffocating those on the bottom.

When it was over, 73 people had died, most of them children.

The tragedy and the mass funeral attracted national attention. Even C&H felt a little ashamed and secretly tried to offer $5,000 to the families of the dead. Citizens in the town took up a collection and went around to the families offering them money. But the miners refused the money, saying, they didn't want charity, they wanted justice.

Ultimately, the families and the miners received no justice. Union President Charles Moyer sent letters demanding an investigation into the mass murders, but thugs from an anti-union citizen group called the Citizens Alliance beat him and shot him. There was never an adequate investigation and the identity of those who raised the false alarm has never been determined, although Moyer believed the man wore a Citizens Alliance button. The strike ended in the spring. Miners went back to work.

The Italian Hall no longer stands. The city of Calumet tore it down, perhaps not wanting to look at the reminder of the tragedy anymore. But an historical marker stands between the arches of the front entry hall with a brief history of the tragedy.

Ultimately, the mines closed as they found it hard to compete with cheaper open-pit copper mining in the Southwest. So there is no happy ending, no triumph for the cause of working people in this story.

But there is one reminder. We can make the union's response to the company's $5,000 hand-out or own motto. We don't want charity for low-wage workers. We want justice.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Livingston's Shari Pollesch Will Challenge Joe Hune!

Extreme right-wing Senator Joe Hune told people a few months ago that he was "nauseated" at the thought of expanding Medicaid so that working poor people in Michigan could have access to health care. 

Imagine how sick to his stomach Hune must be to find out that he has just acquired a tough, smart Democratic opponent for his 2014 re-election campaign!

Shari Pollesch is announcing that she is running for the Democratic nomination for State Senate in the 22nd District and that she is starting her campaign nearly a year before the 2014 election. 

Unlike Hune, who is known as Mr. Free Lunch in Lansing for his frequent lobbyist-paid meals, Shari is committed to policies that put people before special interests, our children’s education before political agendas, seniors before corporate tax cuts and a clean environment before big energy profits.

As a voice of reason in Lansing, Shari will work to reverse policies that are unfairly burdening the middle class and will fight for a smart government that puts people first.

In a statement announcing that she has filed her nominating papers, Shari said:

"I am running because there has been no real progress in Lansing on issues critical to people’s standard of living.

"Unemployment in Michigan was 9% three years ago and it is 9% today.  Instead of focusing on revitalizing our economy, protecting seniors or fairly funding our local schools, my opponent has been sponsoring regulations on whether the local pub can sell me a beer in a glass with a logo. 

"Michigan needs a new direction that will only come through new leadership; leadership that can be trusted to work for people."

Shari was raised by a single mother who often worked two jobs to support Shari, her two brothers, and her sister. Ultimately, Shari’s mother went on to become a small business owner setting an example of hard work, courage and determination.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree from Olivet College in 1981, Shari taught preschool in the Eaton/Ingham County Head Start program.  Witnessing the hardships and inequality of poverty suffered by her students, Shari developed a passion for social justice, which led her to law school. She graduated from Thomas Cooley Law School with her Juris Doctorate and entered private practice in 1989.

As a partner with Ken Burchfield and David Park, Shari has used her strong listening, advocacy, and negotiating skills to help hundreds of Livingston County residents and small businesses, resolve their legal issues.

In addition to her busy law practice, Shari has served on the boards of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Key Development Center, which provides outpatient substance abuse treatment, and the Livingston County Concert Band.  She helped found the Community Unitarian Universalists in Brighton, served as its second board president, and currently chairs its Social Justice Committee. She also chaired the health care reform initiative of the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network and served as a member on a coalition for implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Shari and her husband, Rodger, live in Hartland Township where Shari raised her two daughters, both of whom graduated from Hartland Consolidated Schools and from Michigan colleges.

Shari will officially kick off her campaign on January 15, 2014 at Cleary’s Pub, 117 E. Grand River, Howell, Michigan from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.  For more information about Shari’s campaign, visit Shari’s web site,, or her Facebook page, Shari Pollesch for Senate. To contact the campaign, call (810) 224-0560.

The new boundaries of the 22nd State Senate district were created as part of the state’s legislative redistricting following the 2010 census. The district includes all of Livingston County and approximately two thirds of Washtenaw County, west of the city of Ann Arbor, including Lyndon, Webster, Northfield, Sylvan, Lima, Scio, Sharon, Freedom, Lodi, Saline and Bridgewater Townships, plus the Villages of Dexter and Manchester, and the city of Chelsea.