Labor Day signals the end of summer with cookouts, parades, sales, the beginning of football season and the last gasp of hot temperatures before the start of the fall season. An official U.S. Labor Day was proposed in 1882 to honor the contributions and achievements of American workers but was not established as a national federal holiday by Congress until 1894 in response to the Pullman Strike in Illinois, a national conflict and strike by 4,000 workers of The American Railway Union, the nation’s first industry-wide union.
Some 20 years later, tensions rose between workers and corporate mine owners, which sparked the Colorado Coal Strike lasting from September 1913 through December 1914, a strike that cost more than 100 lives. Colorado made labor history with the infamous Ludlow Massacre, a bloody conflict between miners and the coal mining industry. This tragic event occurred on April 20, 1914, when Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at the Ludlow village, north of Trinidad. Three women, 11 children and several union leaders were among those killed. Today, Ludlow is a ghost town except for a large granite monument acknowledging those who died.
Some of the best local resources for photos of historic Ludlow can be found at the Denver Public Library’s Western History & Genealogy Collection and at the University of Denver’s Colorado Coal Field War Project, an online resource that can be found at www.du.edu/ludlow/index.html, a site that includes a historical outline, a bibliography, photos, maps and information about an archaeological exploration of the site. In Pueblo, the Bessemer Historical Society (www.steelworks.us) houses the archives of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and has published a brief history of the company.
Sometimes lost within the three-day holiday celebrated on the first Monday of September is this historic milestone for the labor movement forgotten after nearly a century. Sometimes in the heat of political arguments Americans forget that labor unions have helped bring competitive, livable wages, safer working conditions and a greater voice at the table for opportunities for advancement.
Fortunately, the United Mine Workers of America bought the land where the event took place and built a monument near I-25, about 30 miles north of the Colorado-New Mexico border. The Ludlow Tent Colony Site was designated a National Historic Landmark on Jan. 16, 2009 and dedicated on June 28, 2009.