Sunday, September 10, 2006

September 10

One hundred and nine years ago today, Steve Urich was shot and killed along with eighteen other immigrant miners in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. Urich, a Slovak by birth, was carrying an American flag and marching with over 400 anthracite workers toward the offices of Calvin Pardee, owner of several mines in Lattimer and nearby Harwood. The anthracite region of Pennsylvania had been in an escalating state of turmoil for weeks as mine owners refused to grant concessions demanded by their workers, thousands of whom walked off their jobs in a strike wave that rolled from McAdoo through Lehigh, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton on its way toward Lattimer and Harwood.

Typical of American mining regions, workers throughout Pennsylvania endured a combination of paternalism and open bigotry from their employers, who owned the shabby homes they rented and the stores that accepted undervalued company scrip for the overpriced goods sold within. Having arrived by the thousands to labor in the anthracite and bituminous fields, Slavic and Southern European immigrant workers earned significantly less than their Anglo counterparts and were required by state law to pay a 3-cent/day “alien tax,” helpfully deducted twice a month from their wages. When the Pennsylvania miners -- assisted by the United Mine Workers -- struck in 1897, mine owners responded with their predictable disregard for civil society.

On the afternoon of September 10, as four hundred unarmed miners approached the A.D. Pardee and Company colliery, scores of local English, Irish and German men -- deputized and armed by James Martin, sheriff of Luzerne County -- greeted the demonstrators with 44-caliber Winchester repeating rifles and metal-jacketed bullets. For reasons that no one has ever convincingly explained, the deputies opened fire on the crowd, spending 150 rounds in less than two minutes. As the miners’ bodies lay strewn about, several deputies walked through the carnage, kicking and taunting the wounded. In addition to the nineteen miners who died immediately, six more perished from their wounds over the next few weeks.

As a memorial erected in 1972 to commemorate the slaughter explains, “It was not a battle because [the miners] were not aggressive, nor were they defensive because they had no weapons of any kind and were simply shot down like so many worthless objects, each of the licensed life-takers trying to outdo the others in butchery.”

At her son’s funeral, the mother of slain miner John Futa, cried out ‘My boy is dead. My boy, who was my only support. He earned sometimes 75 cents a day. He was a good boy. He took care of his poor widowed mother. Now he is dead. The dog of a sheriff and the dogs of men killed him. They killed your people. . . . We must fight. We must avenge the death of our people.’’

On 2 March 1898, Sheriff Martin and 78 deputies were acquitted of murder after a month-long trial. The jury delivering the verdict was unblemished by any Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Italian, or Hungarian presence.