A Historical Perspective on Labor Day: A Labor Leader Dies in an Arizona Mining Camp

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John McBride

John J. McBride was one of the founders of American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886. He was asked to become its first President but declined. Samuel Gompers was then chosen and would hold the position for all but one year until his death in 1924. McBride was elected President of the AFL in 1894. Shortly after being elected, he had the union affiliate itself with the Populist Party as he believed the union should become a political force. This upset many union leaders including Samuel Gompers who would defeat McBride in the election of 1895. The AFL is now part of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor union in the country.

  John McBride was born in Ohio in 1854. At the age of nine he followed his father’s footsteps and went to work in the coal mines. He was a miner, union man/leader fighting for worker’s rights throughout most of his life. In the late 1800s, mineworkers were paid $1 per day for a 12 to 14-hour work day. They received no health benefits, worker’s compensation or vacation. Mining was dangerous with little or no safety regulations in place to protect the workers. To protest these working conditions, the workers formed unions. McBride would be instrumental in the formations of unions in Ohio and the United States.

  McBride would serve as President of the Ohio Miners’ Amalgamated Association from 1882 to 1889. He organized the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers and would serve as their first President. In 1890, he helped organize the United Mine Workers. He would be elected their President in 1892. McBride was also involved in politics during this period, He was elected to the Ohio Legislature as a Democrat and served from 1884 to 1888. Following his defeat in the AFL election of 1895, McBride retired from union activities.

  He pursued other occupations including saloon owner and newspaper editor. In 1911, he traveled to Arizona for health reasons but returned to Ohio. He then moved with his family in 1912 to Arizona, settling in Phoenix. He was owner in partnership of McBride & Beaver, a cigar manufacturing company. In 1914, he became a City Magistrate and picked up the nickname Judge.

  In April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. Labor unions saw that industrialists had been making large profits selling armaments and steel to Great Britain and France during the early years of the war. Now they would be selling to the U.S. government. They saw it as an opportunity for labor to organize in the western mines and push for better pay and working conditions. President Wilson realizing that raw materials were badly needed for the war effort did not want to see a conflict between management and labor interrupt or halt the production of raw materials. 

  Labor problems soon arose out west including Arizona. Strikes were being called for and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical union was trying to gain influence in the mining camps. The IWW was against America’s entry into the war. Thanks to government propaganda and the mine owner’s rhetoric and behavior towards unions, the IWW was seen as being pro-German and anti-American. The IWW members were commonly referred to as “Wobblies”. By summer there were 20 strikes in Arizona and over 4,000 strikes or walkouts nationwide.

  President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Secretary of Labor, William Bauchop Wilson to appoint a mediating commission to look into the labor problems out west. On May 25, 1917 the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers initiated a strike in Jerome. Walkouts followed at mines in Morenci, Bisbee and Globe. Secretary Wilson asked John McBride to mediate the trouble in Jerome. Wilson was a former miner and union labor leader and was friends with McBride. McBride accepted the offer.

  McBride along with Arizona Governor Thomas E. Campbell and Colonel James J. Hornbrook arrived in Jerome on May 28. Colonel Hornbrook was there to assess the need for federal troops to keep order should the strike turn violent. On May 29, two men were shot and killed and two were wounded during a shootout between company guards and strikers after a fire broke out and destroyed a train depot in Jerome.  McBride requested written proposals for concessions from management and the Mine Mill leaders.

  On June 3, newspapers announced that the Jerome strike had ended. The mine operators agreed to pay the Miami wage scale for underground workers of $5.25 per day; recognition of grievance committees made up of employees; reinstatement of all employees without discrimination or their affiliation with the strike; and cooperation with merchants to reduce the cost of living and lower rent charged to employees. In accepting managements offer with a vote of 467 for ending the strike and 431 to continue, the workers agreed to waive their demand for recognition of the union.  Although the strike was settled, members of the IWW were in disagreement with the settlement.

  McBride left for Salt Lake City, Utah on June 19th to act as a conciliator for the Department of Labor at a strike at the Tooele Smelting & Refining Company.  As negotiations dragged on, McBride commented to the newspapers on the labor problems in the west. He said, “Strikes are becoming so frequent that I would not be surprised if the federal government took over the metal mining properties and the smelters of the west and fixed a maximum selling price which would automatically fix the wages.”

  On July 2, McBride was told to go to Globe, Arizona to act as a conciliator in the labor troubles there. The Globe – Miami mining district was the second largest mining district in the world. There were 7,000 miners working there. The three largest mines were the Miami Mine, Inspiration and Old Dominion. McBride arrived on July 5th and, with former governor G.W. P. Hunt, set up headquarters in the Old Dominion Hotel. Hunt was the personal representative for President Wilson. 

Bisbee Deportation.

  Back in Jerome, the IWW had called for a strike on July 8. It was voted down. On July 10, armed citizens of Jerome loaded 67 suspected IWW members referred to as “undesirables” onto railroad cattle cars and shipped them out of town. It was a trial run for the Bisbee deportation which would involve over 1,000 union men most of them with IWW affiliations being loaded onto railroad cars and deported at gunpoint to New Mexico on July 12. These actions raised the tension level at the mines in the Globe-Miami District. In Globe, a citizen’s Loyalty League of 500 men had been organized and federal troops were now in town. McBride and Hunt sent a cable to the Department of Labor asking President Wilson to take action in stopping further deportations of strikers from Bisbee and other strike centers.

  On July 11, it was reported that negotiations with the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers was going well but the Industrial Workers of the World were attempting to make the strike a national movement. To complicate matters the management of the Inspiration mine said they would not negotiate with the IWW and they would not hire any of their members. Walter Douglas, President of Phelps Dodge and Director of the Old Dominion mine said they would not compromise with the strikers. He called the unions “rattlesnakes” and said it would be shown that there is German influence in this movement. Douglas had been at the center of both the Jerome and Bisbee deportations. It was feared that if Mine Mill workers went back to work that the IWW would not let them cross the picket lines and would use violence to prevent them from doing so.

  On August 1, the Weekly Journal-Miner newspaper reported that former governor Hunt announced that the strike had ended. Mine operators did not agree and McBride did not make any comment. On August 15, the Mine Mill union voted to continue the strike. Two newspapers wrote articles about Hunt and used the name G. “Wobbly” P. Hunt in reference to the IWW. They voiced an opinion that the mine operators had no confidence in Hunt and that he was too friendly towards the unions including the IWW. Hunt was known as a friend of labor and was popular with the working man. He was also contesting the results of the election in court which had ousted him from office. Some newspapers said he would use the strike for political means.  McBride would handle most of the negotiations with Mine Mill and the mine operators.

  The strike dragged on through September. During this time, 68 union leaders were on trial for rioting. Some workers were still at the Old Dominion mine manning the pumps. The IWW picket lines were not allowing men to cross. They even threatened to shoot Sheriff Armer if he tried to force his way through the line. There were some acts of violence including a few shootings and fistfights. Broad Street was cleared of some 100 striking workers by a civilian force armed with rifles fixed with bayonets. IWW offices were being raided nationwide including one in Miami. There was the potential for more violence as October rolled around. 

  In early October, it was announced that Globe would be the first mining town in the United States visited by a special federal commission led by Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter would later become a Supreme Court Justice and was a founding member of the ACLU. The commission was investigating the mining troubles in the west and southwest. On October 5, McBride and Hunt attended a luncheon with the Governor and the commission at the Adams Hotel in Phoenix. They were to leave the following day by train for Globe. 

  On the morning of October 9, 1917, while walking with some members of the labor commission on the corner of Broad and Oak streets in Globe, McBride was kicked by a runaway horse through a plate glass window of the Hansen Clothing Shop. The Arizona Republic reported:

  “Judge John McBride, federal mediator in the Globe-Miami copper strike troubles and the only ex-president of the American Federation of Labor, sustained fatal injuries today when a runaway bronco kicked him through a plate glass front of a downtown store. A number of arteries were cut and he bled to death a short time after being taken to the hospital. 

  “The horse belonged to a grocery solicitor and when the latter mounted him he became frightened and threw him. He then tore up Broad Street at a wild gallop. Judge McBride was standing on a street corner with a small group. As the horse approached it stumbled, fell and rolled near the Judge and it was in the animal’s mad scramble to get to its feet that it kicked McBride in the pit of the stomach, hurling him through the glass front. A number of citizens who witnessed the accident administered first aid and Judge McBride was rushed to the county hospital where he died at 12:50 p.m. less than three hours after the accident.”

  Following the news of McBride’s death, flags in the mining district and the state capitol were at half-mast. McBride was buried at Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. The United Mineworkers of America handled the arrangements. John J. McBride was a friend of labor and fought for the workingman throughout his life. He died trying to bring labor and management together during one of the roughest periods in labor history. His legacy with labor unions lives on.

  The Globe – Miami mining district strike ended on October 23, 1917.  In December, G.W.P. Hunt would be reinstated as Governor by the Arizona Supreme Court.

John Hernandez (590 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.


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