Western Federation of Miners

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Western Federation of Miners

Western Federation of Miners (WFM), a radical labor union that organized the miners and smelter workers of the Rocky Mountain states. Created in 1893 by the merger of several local miners' unions, the WFM had a reputation for violent strikes and militant action from its beginning. On several occasions pitched battles occurred between union members and company guards, and state militia and federal troops were sometimes dispatched to keep order in strike areas, such as Leadville, Colo., and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. When Frank Steunenberg, a former governor of Idaho, was murdered in 1905, attempts were made to fix the responsibility on the WFM. Charles Moyer, president of the union, William D. Haywood, secretary, and George Pettibone, a former member, were arrested and stood trial for Steunenberg's murder; defended by Clarence S. Darrow, they were acquitted. The WFM had joined the American Federation of Labor in 1896, but the conservative policies of that organization caused the WFM to withdraw the following year, and, in 1898, to attempt to organize a rival federation, the Western Labor Union. In 1901 the WFM adopted a socialist program, and after the failure of the Western Labor Union it joined in the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. Factionalism within the IWW led to the defection of the WFM, which then rejoined (1911) the American Federation of Labor. The failure of several strikes and the depression of 1914 injured the union, and it suffered from antiradical feeling. Declining in membership and power, the union changed its name in 1916 to International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.

See V. H. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict (1950, repr. 1968); S. H. Holbrook, The Rocky Mountain Revolution (1956).

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