The story so far: Katka has a change of heart.
Eight years had passed since the brutal strike of 1916.
The weather was perfect for July: cool air and bright sun. Lily and Katka were decorating five wooden tables in the back yard of the Slovenski Dom. They laid out tablecloths and, careful not to prick their fingers, put small bundles of wild roses in the vases. They carted dishes outside and carefully arranged them on the place mats. “How’s the pig, coming, Joe?” Lily called out. She could smell it cooking over the fire pit.
Old Joe emerged from near the smokehouse. “He’s dead,” Old Joe said, walking toward them.
Lily laughed. “I suppose that’s a good thing. They’re easier to eat that way.”
“I still don’t know why you’re making me cook for my own party,” Old Joe said. “I’m an old man.”
“Seventy years is a long time. Sit a spell, Joe,” Lily said. “Half the town is coming to wish you Happy Birthday. You best be rested.”
“They’re only coming because they can’t believe I lived this long. Want to witness a miracle.”
So much had changed since the strike. Fashions had changed. Politics had shifted. The town of Biwabik was different. Except for Old Joe, all the old boarders had gotten married or moved. Even though it was 1924, Iron Rangers still used 1916 as a way to measure time. They would begin a story by saying, “A few years after the strike …” or “Not long before the strike …”
For those who stayed on the Range, the years before and the years after blended together, but that summer stuck in their minds as if it happened yesterday. After the sentencing of Anton and the miners in Duluth, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn had remained on the Range for two more months, refusing to obey the judge’s order to leave the state. She and the local strike force tried to keep the strike alive, but they were defeated by hunger and despair. By September, the workers were near starvation and they knew they would never survive a Minnesota winter without an income.
Despite demands from the Department of Labor, the Oliver Mining Company never negotiated with the union. The workers went back to the mines, vowing that when winter was over, they would strike again. U.S. Steel declared victory; they had broken the strike and the workers had lost.
It wasn’t until some time passed that people who lived and worked on the Range began to realize that, although their losses were easy to count, they had made gains, too. In the four months of the strike, the steel company had lost millions of dollars. Although they appeared to never flinch when faced with the miners’ concerns, they were actually terrified of another strike. To prevent the Mesabi miners from walking off the job again, come spring, the company granted many of the miners’ demands. It did not happen all at once. But for the first time in the history of mining in Minnesota, a company feared the consequences of ignoring its workers’ concerns enough to make minor changes in safety and wages. In October, the Oliver increased wages by twenty percent. The following year, they increased them by another ten percent.
Across the nation, large companies learned lessons from the Mesabi strike. They, too, increased wages and improved conditions to prevent their own workers from going on strike.
Tomorrow: The Epilogue continues, and the story ends.