Chapter 49 continues

The story so far: “Rebel Girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn comes to Katka’s aid.


Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s plan was twofold. Every day, for several weeks, she traveled up and down Blood Red Road, giving rousing speeches to raise the spirits of strikers and their wives. Everywhere she went, crowds followed. Soon, the picket lines were stronger and more populated than ever before.

At night, the strikers posted signs bearing the names of all business owners in town that had sold out to the mining company by agreeing to stop issuing credit to strikers. Strikers stood outside these businesses recording the names of every person who purchased as much as a nail. Their names were posted all over town. Mass boycotts continued until the business owners caved and began to extend credit again to the strikers. It was a small victory, but did not go unnoticed.

Politicians who had vehemently taken the side of the Steel Trust and Oliver Mining Company throughout the strike, began to rethink their positions. A band of Iron Range mayors agreed to form a committee to listen to the grievances of the miners and citizens, with the hope that negotiations could begin to end the strike.

Elizabeth and Katka sat in the Kovich back yard drinking well water. “Part of the plan is working,” Elizabeth acknowledged. “Momentum has shifted.

“Yes,” Katka said.

“But we are raising almost no money. Everyone here is starving. If they had a dollar, they’d give it. But they simply don’t.”

“Can’t bleed a rock.”

“Then we must get it elsewhere. I’ll tap into some networks. Better yet, I’ll get Eugene Debs.”

Katka had read about Eugene Debs. He had run for president on the socialist ticket countless times and lost every time. But he was famous. “Debs will come here?”

“Yes. I’ll get Debs. In the meantime, you work with Johan Koski. I’ll tell you what to do.”

Katka assembled the Ladies Auxiliary in Lily and Anton’s house. They aided Johan Koski, who was the treasurer of the Relief and Defense Committee of the Mesabi Iron Range Strikers, in his mission to keep the strikers from going hungry and make sure the Kovich story was in the forefront of America’s conscience. The women and girls spent hours each day writing to unions across the nation, urging them to support the defendants with monetary contributions and to start their own letter writing campaigns. It worked.

Contributions from unions and socialist organizations came pouring in. The ladies took great enjoyment in reading the communications from around the world. They received an envelope, full of mostly small bills, from the Brooklyn Local of Amalgamated Clothing workers. They received letters of support and contributions from Oklahoma, Illinois, the Carolinas, Colorado and Montana. Ladies auxiliaries in labor communities across the nation began letter-writing campaigns of their own, appealing for the release of the Mesabi prisoners. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, thousands of members of the United Mine Workers went on strike in sympathy with the Mesabi miners and “to show that the legal murder” of laborers by corporations “must cease.” Across the ocean, labor organizers from as far as Liverpool, England, and Italy took up their cause, referring to the arrests as a “labor frame-up.” The overseas unions vowed to make it known all over Europe that workers emigrating to the United States faced little or no legal or human rights protections.

Major corporations — steel companies, manufacturers and shipping companies — took notice. They did not want their own companies to lose the kind of money that the Mesabi strike had cost U.S. Steel. To avoid it, they granted their workers small concessions. The Iron Range workers continued to suffer, but workers across the state and nation began to know better conditions, however meager, because of their suffering.

In a month’s time, while the prisoners sat in jail, the auxiliary had raised enough money to hire a new and better defense team. Elizabeth had been true to her word as well. About a week before the trial was set, Eugene Debs arrived in Duluth. There, before ten thousand people, he would deliver a speech in the warehouse district by the shores of Lake Superior.


Tomorrow: Chapter 49 continues.