On March 17 of each year, the town of Butte is transformed into a sea of drunken debauchery. It has been that way my entire life and this weekend will be no different. Butte owes it's St. Patrick's Day revelry and roots to the mining industry and it's copper kings. Most notably Marcus Daly- the copper king who for decades hired the Irish and killed the Irish in some of the most unsafe working conditions ever conceived. Amidst all of that working and dying, the Irish found time to drink. They always found time to drink. In Butte, the bars just like the mines, stayed open every hour of the day and night.
History is not always kind to the good men nor do the willfully arrogant always get what they sow.
When you are paying people 3 dollars a day and you have an unlimited amount of workers, in some cavalier and sociopathic sort of way, people (particularly immigrants) become disposable. This was not lost on those immigrant miners working twelve hour days, six days a week, and watching as their friends died of black lung and their widows went without. This tends to anger any man and it certainly had a cumulative effect on Butte's miners. Eventually the "copper kings" sold out and died off and the Anaconda Company was born. By the time WWI and 1917 rolled around, while the Anaconda elite made millions- they had also proposed a pay cut for the miners just as copper prices soared. That level of "in your face greed" lit a fuse. The company (I never heard it referred to in any other fashion) used people in the same disposable ways that it's predecessors had with an added pinch of ruthlessness. In fact, the Anaconda Company might have been the most lawless, criminal enterprise of it's kind.
It all came to a head in the summer of 1917. There is a fantastic book (rated 4.8 stars out of 5) about Butte and that disaster. http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Brimstone-North-Mining-Disaster/dp/1401308899
Butte became the "Gibralter of Unionism." You probably owe what work benefits you still cling to- in some measure- to the efforts of a bunch of immigrant miners and their unions. Once unions were embraced- the bar was raised for corporations with competing interests. They had to get competitive or lose workers. Workers began receiving benefits, defined work and vacation hours, safety measures, overtime pay.
In Butte for many years, the Anaconda Company employed "rustling cards." These cards were used to identify and blacklist miners. They were a dossier on potential employees and they were hated. I have actually seen a few of these cards. Perhaps they were the predecessor to today's references and job history.http://www.butteamerica.com/labor.htm
In many respects, the working world really hasn't changed all that much. A few things have changed. Government is by far the largest employer now. Human resources, litigation and law have taken over where most unions left off. We have taken credentialing to ridiculous heights. The government, bankers, and universities routinely exploit students seeking the means and the education to increase their lot in life. Companies skim the best and the brightest students and demand steadfast loyalty. They want obedient slaves- not independent thinkers. In time, corporations will eventually reduce every fringe benefit that they can in order to enlarge margins. They can't really kill you anymore. They just dump you onto the government unemployment dole. Or offshore your job to one of 2 billion Chinese workers willing to work for one dollar an hour.
It's always been about greed and money. Always. It was that way in 1917 and it is still that way in 2013. The bastards just keep winning.
So who are these elite bastards?
The bastards are a class of people who understand how to exploit labor. They pay people just as cheaply as they can while reaping enormous profits for themselves. They are never concerned with anyone other than themselves really- although they will pretend to care about workers because civility and propriety demand it and they must continually recruit and attract new workers as they dispose of old ones. Having garnered huge fortunes- they occasionally fling a few crusts of bread to some charity here or there. They use charities to enshrine themselves. Buildings are built for them, often christened with their name. They claim to be great humanitarians but that's not who they are. They are simply people who happened upon a great opportunity and seized it. They then extract the maximum amount of wealth that they can- any way that they can. They always have a few key people who surround them and facilitate their wealth gathering. Those people are handsomely rewarded and often act as professional cheerleaders and ego guards. They deflect any criticism.
I have always known this. It was a gift bestowed upon me by the son of miners in 1971. It was by far and to this day, the most important lesson I have ever learned.
Many folks don't know that the the copper industry, the Anaconda Company and their owner/ manipulators, played a huge role in fleecing America just prior to, and perhaps actually caused, the great depression. From Wiki:
In 1928 Ryan and Percy Rockefeller aggressively speculated on Anaconda shares, causing them to go up at first (when they sold) and then to go down (when they buy them back). Known today as a "pump and dump", at the time it was not illegal, and was actually quite common. The prices, under the pressure of a "joint account" set up by Ryan and Rockefeller of nearly a million and a half shares of Anaconda Copper Company, fluctuated from $40 in December, 1928 to $128 in March 1929.
Smaller investors were completely wiped out. The results are still considered one of the great fleecings in Wall Street history. The American Senate hearings concluded that those operations cost the public, at the very least, $150 million. A 1933 Senate banking committee called these operations the greatest frauds in American banking history and a leading cause of the 1930s depression.
In 1929 Anaconda Copper Mining Co. issued new stock and used some of the money to buy shares of speculative companies. When the market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929, Anaconda suffered serious financial setbacks. Moreover, at the same time, copper prices started going down dramatically. During the winter of 1932-33 copper prices had dropped to $0.103 per kg, down from an average of $0.295 per kg only two years earlier.
The Great Depression took its toll with massive unemployment in both the United States and Chile (up to 66 percent unemployment rate in the Chilean mines). On March 26, 1931, Anaconda cut its dividend rate 40%. John D. Ryan died in 1933 and was buried in a copper coffin. His mighty Anaconda shares, once worth $175 each, had dropped to $4 at the bottom of the Great Depression. Cornelius Kelley became the Chairman in 1940.
Cornelius Kelley, or "Mr. Anaconda" was no saint. But that biography will have to wait for another time.
Is there an alternative to the greed based, capitalistic working model that enslaves most of us? Yes Virginia my dear, I believe there is.
Years ago, I stumbled onto an extraordinary business model. It was a model wherein the owner/operator of a company paid himself the exact same salary as his 6 other workers. All of their salaries were based on their mutual success and they were all paid exactly the same amount and they worked similar hours. Each had a specific job to do- and they all agreed upon this socialized business model. Because nobody was taking a lion's share of the profits- all of them made very good money. I would dearly love to find that company and find out if the business model went well or if not, how it failed. I remember thinking at the time that I stumbled onto it- that someone had finally found a way to succeed without exploiting others. Here's the socialist business model that operates in much the same way as the business I just described. http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/money/article/a-look-at-a-more-socialist-business-model-1/
Today in Butte, a bunch of drunken lunatics will take to the streets in uptown Butte. They will drink green beer, listen to the bands play, watch the kids try to grab a greased pig. Many do not know or perhaps care, that they are dancing amidst the history of this country. This is where the elite and the uneducated working stiffs squared off for a brief moment in time in the 1910's. A lot of people were killed in uptown Butte and they are mostly forgotten now. Heroes don't always triumph. The sons of miners taught me that when the good guys lose...
... often, the bastards just keep winning.