The Nation
Vol. 106, No. 2748 pgs 235-236
Feb. 28, 1918

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Copper Camp Patriotism: An Interpretation


Any one who will take the pains to look beneath the surface of the disgraceful events that dislocated copper production in Arizona last summer—events not unlike those which are still keeping the lumber industry of the Northwest in confusion—will see that the fundamental cause of the strikes and their attendant losses was the breakdown of authority of both state and Federal Government.  When the President’s Mediation Commission visited Arizona, with instructions to restore the output of copper to its maximum, the following of the I. W. W. was not a serious factor there.  Since the Commission left Arizona, however, reports have reached me from independent and trustworthy sources that the membership of the I. W. W. is rapidly growing.  The basic contention of the I. W. W. leaders, the major argument upon which their revolutionary propaganda  rests, is that the modern “capitalistic State” is powerless to safeguard the interests of the workers, and that their only hope of escape from the toil of the “wage slavery” is the conquest of the basic industries and the creation of a new “industrial State” responsible to the democratic representatives operated by the workers themselves.  In other words, their dream is essentially the same as that which inspires the present revolutionary movement in Russia.

To most of us who believe in the fundamentally democratic quality of our American Constitution, and who look for the ultimate democratization of industry through slow evolution from precedent to the precedent under law; there is, at first blush, something mad; something bordering upon the treasonable in this I. W. W. indictment of the State of our faith.  Our first impulse is to turn upon these men who mutter rebellion and rend them limb from limb as though they were defilers of our holy of holies.  However we deprecate the indiscretion of the two copper companies in resorting to violence, we cherish a certain inward sympathy for them because at bottom, we feel, they were defending the State, the body of laws, of customs, of ideals of property and social relations, in which our own security is roosted.

When, however, we look more closely at the things which the copper companies did, we are startled to find their policy inspired by the same distrust of the State, of the constituted authorities of Arizona and the Federal Government, for which they themselves condemned the I. W. W. as an “outlaw” organization.  The strike in Bisbee took effect on the 27th of June.  At the instance of Governor Campbell, the Federal authorities sent to Bisbee an officer of the United States army who notified the Sheriff that in case of need he could bring in troops at a moment’s notice.  Though there was no violence among the strikers in Bisbee, the companies, in league with the Sheriff, deported some twelve hundred men in defiance of due process of law.  Their representatives openly asserted that in the execution of their plans they had thus ignored the State and Federal authorities because they could not trust those authorities to take the action which, in their private judgment, the situation demanded.

In face of the open contempt of the State, the President’s Mediation Commission confessed the helplessness of the Federal Government.  They discovered that there was no Federal statute under which the authors of these deportations from Arizona to New Mexico could be punished.  For the protection of men violently hustled from one State to another the Federal Government, as it appears from this incident, is without power.

Such power as existed the Constitution and statues of Arizona vested in the governor and Attorney-General of the State; but the companies contemptuously flouted these constituted guardians of the public interest.  After the deportations the companies set up and extra-legal court of their own, before which all persons desiring to live and do business in Bisbee and not rated as “loyal” were forced to appear.  Many such persons, according to their own testimony, were asked whether they had participated in the strike, whether they sympathized with the strikers as against the companies, whether they were ready to go back and work at such places and on such terms as the powers behind the “kangaroo court” might designate.  Failing a satisfactory answer, they were ordered to move on, were forcibly deported, or were imprisoned and sent out in the convict road-repair group.

When the victims of this lawlessness appealed for protection o the Governor of Arizona, he professed helplessness on the ground that the State troops had been taken over by the Federal authorities, and shifted responsibility to the State’s Attorney-General.  In a telegram of August 9 addressed to the Governor that official reported as follows:

After calm discussion and an impartial presentation of the serious phase of the situation as to continued unlawful deportations by Bisbee’s controlling committee, I was courteously informed by committee in presence of Sheriff that determinations is fixed that daily practice of a committee hearings and deportations will continue regardless of law.  Therefore, I officially report that only armed force of State under Governor’s constitutional and statutory powers or Federal force through Governor’s request under the United States Constitution will overcome these unlawful deportations as well as denials of entrance into Bisbee as now conducted.  I cite paragraph thirty-nine fifty-five, Revised Statutes Arizona, and section four, article four, United States Constitution.

Had the wage workers been guilty of such open defiance of law, there seems every reason to believe the Governor Campbell would have found it possible to get troops into Bisbee.  At least, an insignificant demonstration the part of certain strikers in Globe, Arizona, had demonstrated his ability to get troops when he wanted them.  But under our Federal Constitution, the United States Government may not send troops into a State without explicit request of the Governor, and in the face of the defiant contempt of the self-constituted authorities of Bisbee, the Governor stood paralyzed and failed to at.  After seven months, the men who were lawlessly deported from their homes in Bisbee are still scattered to the four winds and are without redress.  Is it surprising that the victims of such lawlessness should despair of the ability, not to say the willingness, of our state to render even-handed justice?

We shall be deceiving ourselves if we proceed on the assumption that such explosions of anarchy as that at Bisbee are due to the malice of individual men, and that our responsibility as a people will be adequately met when the wrongdoers have been exposed, indicted, and thrown into jail.  The ultimate responsibility rests, not on the individuals, but squarely upon us as self-governing democratic people.  For we have not worked out a national policy adapted to the conditions of the present time as regards either of the two fundamental elements of national wealth and well-being—natural resources and labor.  On these two is built the whole superstructure of economic and financial relations.  Our traditional policy regarding both was developed at a tie when our natural resources were “unlimited,” when ownership was widely distributed in small units, when population was sparse, and when we had scarcely the beginnings of a permanent laboring class.  Policies adapted to such conditions may require material modification in order to work smoothly under the circumstances of to-day.  It may be conceivable, for example, that the principles on which we are coming to administer our public utilities should be applied, in greater or less degree, to our basic raw materials such as copper, whose ownership and production must be handled on a large scale.

It is not intended to advocate this solution, but to indicate the imperative necessity of working out some policy adapted to present needs, a policy sound in principle and capable of smooth working under stress and strain of modern industrial conditions.  As it is, it is easy to see how existing difficulties have arisen.  The copper mines have hitherto been held purely in accordance with the traditional law of private property, instead of being regarded as in any way affected with a public interest.  And since the State has thus assumed no special responsibility, it is only natural that in times of industrial disturbance the owners should take the stage they consider necessary to protect their buildings.

At the same time we have left our policy affecting the public relationships of wage-workers too nearly what it was in the days of petty industry.  We do indeed modify the law, but legislative reform invariably lags far behind the change of economic conditions.  And even the administration and interpretation of the existing law is often in a state of utter confusion and uncertainty.  At times of industrial dispute there is often no way for the wage-workers to know what the law is or to learn to whom they may turn for redress of grievances real or imaginary.  The President’s Mediation Commission, for example, reported that the strikes in copper camps of Arizona were directly due

to underlying labor conditions of the mining industry of the State which were devoid of safeguards against strikes, and, in fact, provocative of them.  To correct these evil conditions the Commission set up an administrative machinery for the adjustment of industrial disputes based upon the principle of collective bargaining, under which the right of the men to organize was made effective by providing administrative enforcement for the prohibition against discrimination because of union affiliations.

But while the Commission was thus in effect compelling certain of the copper companies to deal with their employees collectively by guaranteeing the men the right to unionize, the United States Supreme Court handed down an opinion in which it enjoined labor leaders from so much as attempting to organize the workers in plants where the individual contract was in force; and the United States Department of Justice was jailing hundreds of men for concerted action designed to improve the conditions of their employment.  Here were three branches of the Federal Government pursuing three radically divergent and hopelessly conflicting policies towards the wage-workers at the very moment when the nation was making a patriotic appeal to the workers to get out a maximum production of copper.  The United States Department of Justice was arresting them, the President’s Mediation Commission was telling them that they must organized into unions, and the United States Supreme Court was announcing that if they attempted to organize under certain conditions they would be guilty of contempt of court.  And yet we charge them with treason when they despair of the ability of our Government to protect them and announce their determination to set up a new industrial State of their own.  It is not evident that an essential condition of faith in the justice of our Government and whole-hearted devotion to it on the part of men dependent for the livelihood on their labor is the removal of such glaring contradictions as these and the development of a straightforward, consistent policy under which laboring men, like owners of capital, will clearly understand their rights and duties as prescribed by the law, and will see both rights and duties impartially enforced?  It is easy to blame individual mine owners or labor leaders for such industrial and social disasters as that described in these articles, but such a placing of blame will not solve our problem.  Until we adopt and enforce an intelligent policy with respect to our basic natural resources and the government of industrial relationships, the State of our allegiance will be held in increasing distrust and contempt by the property owners and the propertyless men alike.