Friday, January 29, 2010

Mother Jones

Mother Jones, General of the Working Class

She was born in Cork, Ireland,
and named Mary Harris.
Her parents probably had no idea
of the kind of life she would lead.

In her early years she saw and experienced
the effects of the Irish potato famine.
While English power brokers lived in opulence,
a million Irish starved to death.

Her family came to the United States
where she married and had four children.
Her husband was a trade union activist,
and she learned the importance of unionism.

When the yellow fever came to Memphis,
the affluent people left the city.
The Jones family stayed behind.
Her husband, and four children died in the epidemic.

She went to Chicago and started a dressmaking business.
Her customers were wealthy,
but she also saw those who yearned for the basic necessities.
The Chicago Fire took her business and she started over again.

One might think that the horror
Mary Jones had experienced
might have made her despondent
and cynical about the possibilities in the world.

But she joined the Knights of Labor,
and began to support every strike she could.
The United Mine Workers hired her,
and the mine bosses dreaded that day.

She was a different kind of general,
who talked to workers as if she was their mother.
But this mother was willing to do whatever was necessary
to win a better life for those who appeared to be slaves.

In West Virginia she told the miners
they could never make their families happy,
by doing backbreaking work
for those who broke the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

At Arnot Pennsylvania, it was too dangerous
for the men to picket the mines.
Mother Jones organized an army of women with mops and brooms,
who kept the scabs out, and the strike was a victory.

In Philadelphia, Mother Jones
organized an army of child textile workers.
Ten and twelve year old workers
who had fingers missing, and toiled long hours.

The army marched 125 miles to Oyster Bay,
the summer home of President Theodore Roosevelt.
On the way the General of the Children’s Army
told the truth to those who would listen.

She pointed to the 10 year old soldier, James Ashworth,
whose back was bent from carrying seventy-five pound bundles.
James did this work, while the children of the rich
received a higher education.

In Douglass, Arizona Mother Jones
discovered that the police
kidnapped a Mexican revolutionary.
She initiated a campaign that won his freedom.

Then came the war for the miners in Colorado.
The Governor said that Constitutional law
did not exist in the counties
where the coal mines were located.

For the crime of thinking to go on strike,
those who mined the coal that kept people warm
were thrown out of company housing
into frigid weather and six foot snow drifts.

Mother Jones spoke to the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa,
and no Mexican workers crossed the picket lines.
As for the government officials in the United States,
she had less success.

For the crime of attempting to visit the miners,
she was placed in a dungeon where she battled with sewer rats.
She thought that if she were on the outside,
she “would be fighting the human sewer rats anyway!”

One thousand women and children
marched demanding her release.
General Chase ordered the state militia to “Ride down the women.”
Their sabers slashed through human flesh and the Constitution.

When the strikers refused to give up,
the militia fired a machine gun into their tents.
Then they burned those tents. Women and children
who were too afraid to leave were burned to death.

She was a general of working people in the Americas.
She traveled to where-ever the battle took place.
Most of the time the battle was lost,
but she gave the soldiers the confidence that they had the ability to win.

After 93 years of struggle,
the warrior passed away.
Four years after her death,
millions of workers joined unions
that Mother Jones used her life to build.

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