In the 19th Century, Jay Gould, an American railroad developer was quoted as saying “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”
In the days when thousands of men worked in the mines, each mining camp was under the dominion of the company and had a law enforcement officer who was on the pay roll. The company store monopolized the goods that were sold to the workers. They even had control over the education system; they only hired those teachers that agreed with their views and only allowed textbooks that had been approved by the company. Doctors and lawyers were appointed by the company to keep injured employees from collecting payment for damages for the many catastrophic accidents that put their lives at risk. The laws were the company’s rules and the working conditions were cruel and heartless. They had no voice and at any moment any one of them was at risk of being fired, beaten, or shot, in fact more men were killed and crippled by the coal industry than during any battle of the civil war.
The miners saw themselves as industrial slaves and when Mary Harris Jones, an Irish-American schoolteacher and labor activist, appeared on the scene, they were ready to rebel against their masters. The company fought back and organized a series of police raids where they openly killed and injured dozens of men.
As the mining of coal pushed the U.S. economy to new heights, the men and boys who drew it from the ground continued to be considered ‘expendable’. This led to miners organizing themselves in order to fight back and demand that their rights be respected.
But miners were just one of the groups of people that faced oppression and injustice on American soil. The railroad workers, the Native Americans, the Irish, the poor, and the African Americans faced similar mistreatment and inequality.
Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and other writers of the time documented their views regarding the things they saw and experienced in society. In his writing American Notes Dickens stated “I saw… despicable trickery at elections; underhanded tampering with public officers; cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers.”
Throughout past history, many companies have been determined to intimidate workers into submission in order to get them to give up their right to live in dignity. Is it any different today?