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You ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes.
                                                      -Mother Jones

Saturday December 19, 1903
From The Labor World: A Tribute to the Great Labor Leader Martin Irons

Martin Irons, 1886
Martin Irons, 1886
On today's front page, The Labor World, weekly labor newspaper of Duluth, Minnesota, honors the memory of Martin Irons:

Martin Irons, a sketch of whom recently appeared in the Chicago-Herald, is known as the leader of the disastrous strike on the Missouri Pacific and four other lines between Missouri and Texas in 1886. He was born in Dundee, Scotland, in 1832, and came to this country when 14 years of age. Friendless and penniless, he sought employment and became an apprentice in a machine-shop, where he worked for many years after learning that trade. As a youth his warm feelings for the weak or oppressed were always evident, and to the end his unswerving fealty to the cause of the poor challenged the admiration of even his enemies. Witnessing an employer's greed on one side and a mother with her dying child on the other, he is said to have registered a vow ever after to devote his life to humanity-"helping to humanize men and to debrutalize those that have power over the weak."

Having accumulated a small amount as foreman in a machine-shop, he opened a grocery in New Orleans and lost it all through too much trusting, and then returned to his trade. In 1885 he joined the Knight of labor, and in speaking of the occasion said: "Not till then did I feel that I had struck the chord entirely in harmony with my soul. When that beautiful watchword of knighthood, 'An injury to one is the concern of all,' resounded through my life and when I learned that knighthood embraced every grade of honest toil in its heights and depths, then I was ready to spend the remaining energies of my life."

As chairman of the Executive Board of District Assembly NO. 101, K. of L., he ordered the railroad strike in 1886, which lasted six weeks and threw thousands of men out of employment. The strike was lost. Members of the Knights of Labor were forever barred from employment on the roads, several were sent to the penitentiary, and not one concession was made by the employers. "A strike that one hour's gentlemanly courtesy on the part of the manager would have averted," were the words used later by Irons.

Even though himself defeated he never ceased exhorting the poorer classes to organize and better their conditions. He served and suffered for his class. He died near Waco, Texas, Nov. 17, 1901, after many days suffering, intensified by the pangs of poverty.

The Labor World
(Duluth, Minnesota)
-of Dec 19, 1903

Photo: Martin Irons, 1886

Friday December 19, 1913
Denver, Colorado - More News from Colorado Federation of Labor Special Convention

The following continues the reporting on the December 16th march to the Capitol and the meeting of the convention delegates with Governor Ammons:

The delegates in the march demanded a meeting with Governor Ammons, and the Governor agreed to meet with them. The chamber of the State House of Representatives was chosen as a room which would seat 500, with only actual delegates to the convention to be allowed inside. A huge crowd waited outside the meeting room.

The meeting was presided over by Eli M. Gross, vice president of the Colorado Federation of Labor, who told the delegates, "Governor Ammons will answer any questions. I will rule that the questions be written."

The Governor answered questions and then made this statement: "I do not believe many of the charges that have been made against the National Guard, but I would be glad to have a committee of the federation investigate and submit any proof."

The final resolutions passed by the convention demanded the release of all military prisoners and adamantly called for the removal of General Chase and Judge Advocate Boughton, described as "mere tools and lickspittles for the mine owners." The resolutions concluded with this declaration:

This convention declares now and gives fair warning, in the name of millions of American workingmen, that these things will no longer be tolerated. No surer or more certain course can be followed if it is desired to turn workingmen into anarchists. We call upon the great body of Americans not to drive workingmen into the ranks of the anarchists. The law was not made simply for the rich. There is not a man who will read this declaration but knows that if Osgood, Brown and Rockefeller, who are fighting the strikers with a malignity hitherto unknown in American history, were arrested, they would not be held incommunicado or denied counsel. Can any fair-minded man blame us for bitterness when the laborer is thus, by the officers of the law, denied the rights granted to the rich? We have no quarrel with the rich man, and we seek to prejudice no one against him. We do, however, demand for the laborer every privilege before the law which the rich man has. We frankly avow intention to get these rights for laboring men. We intend to get them lawfully if we can. Again we say, if this be treason, let the coal operators make the most of it.
emphasis added

The Governor was given five days to comply with the Convention's demands or face a recall petition. The executive board was granted the authority to call for a state-wide strike should they deem one to be necessary.

The C. F. of L. committee was named to probe the Colorado National Guard as the Governor, himself, had suggested. Chosen for that committee were John Lawson, Eli Gross, Frank Miner, James Kirwan, and Prof. James H. Brewster of the University of Colorado School of Law, with John Lawson appointed chairman. The Governor provided the committee with this letter of authority, addressed to General Chase:

You will please give this committee every assistance within your power to the end that they may secure what information they desire. Please have them furnished with any information you may have or direct that any one who has information shall give it to them. I will appreciate it if you could, if they so desire, send some one with them wherever they want to go.
Before leaving Denver, John Lawson made this statement:
The convention was undoubtedly the greatest in the history of the Colorado labor movement. It conclusively demonstrated several things. First, that organized labor is going to demand that the liberties of the people be protected. They are not willing to permit any military despot to arrogate to himself privileges that have been denied the czar of Russia. They are going to stand first, last and always for trial by jury. They will not permit Major Boughton, General Chase, the governor or anyone else to abrogate this right. It might be well to call the attention of the Democratic Party and the state administration to the fact that the appointment of such tyrants as General Chase and Sherman Bell during the Peabody regime brought a great political revolution and changed the entire aspect of state politics. And it would be well for the present administration to remember that it was the united forces of labor that brought about this revolution. If the present administration insists on serving the corporations instead of the people, the labor forces will bring about another change.
Mother Jones is on her way to El Paso, Texas, and is expected to cross over into Mexico to meet with Pancho Villa. She will ask for his assistance in stopping the flow of scabs from that area of Mexico into the strike zone of Colorado. We hope to have news of her trip at a later date.

Out of the Depths
The Story of John R. Lawson, a Labor Leader

-by Barron B. Beshoar
(1st ed 1942)
CO, 1980


Thursday December 19, 2013
More on the Great Early Labor Leader, Martin Irons:

It was in 1886 that Martin Irons, as chairman of the executive board of the Knights of Labor of the Gould southwest railway system, defied capitalist tyranny, and from that hour he was doomed. All the powers of capitalism combined to crush him, and when at last he succumbed to overwhelming odds, he was hounded from place to place until he was ragged and foot-sore and the pangs of hunger gnawed at his vitals.

                                                  — Eugene V. Debs, December 9, 1900

From: Know Your Labor Leaders
Iron & Gold€ centers on Gould and Martin Irons, the man who opposed him in the Great Southwest Strike. Irons sings €œSong for the Knights of Labor€ in act 2, as the Knights prepare to go on strike.
    Act 1 of Iron & Gold€ is complete; you can hear the music online for free here. It's also available at Spotify and probably other online radio stations, and if you actually want to buy it, at various online retailers including iTunes and Amazon, though CDBaby gives us the biggest royalty. (Note to real historians: We've taken some dramatic liberties with the few known facts of Irons'€™ life - for instance, telescoping two wives into one.)
From: a Community Spotlighted diary by PianoGuy
They tried to make you cave in, they slandered your name and gave you trouble but you stood firm. Well done sir, rest in peace.
From: Very nice tribute to Martin Irons, with photos of grave.

"Song for the Knights of Labor" from "Iron & Gold"

Why should the weak be prey to the strong?
Why does the tyrant's machinery run on?
To take for himself what does not belong,
The light of his brothers' sun?

Originally posted to Hellraisers Journal on Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks, Rebel Songwriters, Protest Music, In Support of Labor and Unions, Anti-Capitalist Chat, and History for Kossacks.

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