John Lawson entered the mines as a pit boy when he was eight years old. By the time of the Ludlow Strike and Massacre (1913-1914), of which he writes, he was an organizer for the United Mine Workers. The unnamed philanthropist in the essay below is, of course, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. To increase profits, his Colorado Fuel and Iron Company cut corners on safety: more than 1,700 miners died in Colorado from 1884 to 1912, a rate 2 to 3.5 times the national average. (A good summary of this era is in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, pages 346-349.) The headline image is from the Jan 30 1915 New York Times, describing Lawson’s testimony before the Federal Commission on Industrial Affairs inquiry.
by James R Lawson
There is another case of industrial discontent. This is the skillful attempt that is being made to substitute Philanthropy for Justice. There is not one of these foundations, now spreading their millions over the world in showy generosity, that does not draw those millions from some sort of industrial injustice. It is not their money that these lords of commercialized virtue are spending, but the withheld wages of the American working class.
I sat in this room and heard a great philanthropist read the list of activities of his Foundation “to promote the well-being of mankind.” An international health commission to extend to foreign countries and peoples the work of eradicating the hookworm; the promotion of medical education and health in China; the investigation of vice conditions in Europe; one hundred thousand dollars for the American Academy in Rome, twenty thousand a year for widows’ pensions in New York, one million for the relief of Belgians, thirty-four millions for the University of Chicago, thirty-four millions for a General Education Board. A wave of horror swept over me during that reading, and I say to you that the same wave is rushing over the entire working class of the United States. Health for China, a refuge for birds in Louisiana, food for the Belgians, pensions for New York widows, university training for the elect—and never a thought or a dollar for the many thousands of men, women and children who starved in Colorado, for the widows robbed of their husbands and children of their fathers, by the law-violating conditions in the mines. There are thousands of this great philanthropist’s former employees in Colorado today who wish to God that they were in Belgium to be fed, or birds to be cared for tenderly.