This week, as I continue to write the second book in the Mesabi series, I begin to delve deeper into the beginning of the labor struggle on the Iron Range. It is a story rife with conflict, embedded heavily with personal feelings and emotions. As I read more about those early days I find that the lines that became drawn in the sands leading up to, and immediately after, the strike of 1907, were akin to the lines drawn in the sand leading up to and during the Civil War.
Families were divided over the question of organized labor. Some believed labor unions were necessary to protect the men who went deep into those great pits in the earth to dig the red gold out of the ground. Others believed that the miners should remain grateful to the mining company—what would eventually become The Oliver—for giving them work. “Without the mines we would not have jobs or homes,” was a common refrain among those who would defend the mining companies.
This was a time of tremendous change on the Mesabi Range. The pioneer life of the early settlers like Arthur Maki—whose first days in Mountain Iron are told in Mesabi Pioneers—transitioned into more longstanding society. Mining camps still existed, but they took on a more permanent presence. Populations boomed, and with the increase in people came families, women and children, who helped to create a more lawful society.
And with that lawfulness came the idea that the lives of the men who worked the mines, the miners and laborers who sweated for twelve to fourteen hour days, were worth more than the iron ore they were digging out of the ground. The men, the belief went, should not only be grateful for the mines; the mines should be grateful for the men.
It would be a battle that would last for a generation.