Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Mother Jones - Mary Harris Jones
Mary Harris Jones (1830-1930)
By Richard E. Noble
Mother Jones was born in 1830 and died in 1930 - but no one is quite sure. That she died in 1930 seems pretty sure but the exact date of her birth is cloudy to say the least. Even though she wrote her autobiography, her personal life remains a mystery.
She was “Mother” to the American Labor movement, especially miners, and in that capacity her activities are well known - among a certain interested minority.
I am coming to the conclusion that the labor movement in America and around the world is the key to understanding and consequently misunderstanding modern history.
From the traditional perspective Unions are bad. They have been violent, destructive to progress, against business and inventive entrepreneur-ship. Traditionally they have been controlled not by idealistic dreamers with utopian visions, but by malicious, self-serving gangsters.
Reading the history of the American labor movement gives another side of the story; unions are idealistic, humanitarian, protective of family values, promotional of the Social Good, courageous, persecuted and maligned, and totally dedicated to the plight of the common man.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in-between.
Mother Jones was much involved in making labor history throughout her life. She organized her first labor strike at the age of forty-seven and went on from there to become known to the Establishment as the most dangerous woman in America.
If you see any pictures of Mother Jones, you would probably envision her as anybody’s grandmother - if you are Caucasian. If you are of another race, you will certainly see her, nevertheless, as somebody’s grandmother if not your own. She is a little old lady who dresses like a little old lady.
She married an Iron Molder and they had four children together. They all supposedly died in the Memphis yellow fever epidemic. Mother told this story in her autobiography - she didn’t mention her husband’s name or the names of her children.
She was obviously a secretive woman when it came to her personal life. But, in her role as outspoken reformer and anti-establishment figure, it is no wonder. She was called a whore, a tramp, a communist and every other such thing. If any records were available they probably would have accused her of wiping out her own family or purposely inflicting them with the yellow fever.
If you have ever spoken out or blown a whistle on any power structure, you know what I’m talking about. It is the same today as it was then. People who have never spoken out or gone public on anything really have no understanding of what it takes of an individual to do such a thing.
People are often of the opinion that reactionaries become rich and famous - they write a book or get paid by some unknown reactionary underground. The reality is that they more often become poor and abused and disappear into anonymity. I would recommend reading the life of Karl Marx, for example. Before you start, write down your present views of Karl Marx. When you are finished your research, write down your newly educated opinion. Then compare the two. I have performed this experiment hundreds of times myself. I find it continually fascinating. What really fascinates me is how I had such in depth opinions of various historical figures, before I ever did any serious reading at all. It is amazing.
I see these reformers in the early days of the labor movement as nothing but courageous, to say the least. And today, they are for the most part forgotten.
Mother Jones was known as a militant labor agitator. This means that she advocated strikes, walkouts, sit-ins and the like. Real militancy was usually left to the government, mill owners, and industrialists in general. This is not my opinion. This is a matter of record in the history books of the times, in the trials and legal proceedings, and in many of the most famous labor cases and inquisitions brought up and exposed before the general public.[click on Bread and Roses or Joe Hill – Search This Blog] Management thugs, corrupt Pinkerton agents, local militias, state and federal troops, management infiltrators and bomb throwers - often bought-and-paid-for by the bosses and industrialists and attributed to labor agitators.
When one reads about that labor movement period from the 1830s to the 1930s one can see in plain view what is going on today more subtly behind closed doors and in secret meetings around the world.
I predict that the labor movement is going to make a comeback around the world and maybe woman and grandmothers like Mother Jones will once again be a major part of it.