ABOUT THIS BOOK
This is the story of immigrant copper workers and their attempts to organize at the turn of the century in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and El Paso, Texas. These Mexican and European laborers of widely varying backgrounds and languages had little social, economic, or political power. Yet they achieved some surprising successes in their struggles—all in the face of a racist society and the unbridled power of the mine owners.
Mellinger's book is the first regional history of these ordinary working people—miners, muckers, millhands, and smelter workers—who labored in the thousands of mountain and desert mining camps across the western heartland early in this century. These men, largely uneducated, frequently moving from camp to camp, subjected to harsh and dangerous conditions, often poorly paid, nevertheless came together for a common purpose.
They came from Mexico, from the U.S. Hispanic Southwest, and from several European countries, especially from Greece, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, and Spain. They were far from a homogeneous group. Yet, in part because they set aside ethnic differences to pursue cooperative labor action, they were able to make demands, plan strikes, carry them out, and sometimes actually win. They also won the aid of the Western Federation of Miners and the more radical Industrial Workers of the World. After initial rejection, they were eventually accepted by mainstream unionists.
Mellinger discusses towns, mines, camps, companies, and labor unions, but this book is largely about people. In order to reconstruct their mining-community lives, he has used little-known union and company records, personal interviews with old-time workers and their families, and a variety of regional sources that together have enabled him to reveal a complex and significant pattern of social, economic, and political change in the American West.