FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Celebrating Mother Jones

“In all my career I have never advocated violence. I want to give the nation a more highly developed citizenship.”

Mother Jones

This week commemorates the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair, International Workers’ Day, and the claimed birthday of Mother Mary Harris Jones.  While the United States’ official Labor Day falls in September, the international community celebrates workers and workers rights on May 1st, in recognition of actions taken by Americans in 1886, and the events that led up to the Haymarket Massacre.

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour workday organizers, 40,000 went out on strike. The strike continued for three days, and, though violence broke out between strikers and police in one location, the bulk of the strikers remained nonviolent.

On May 4th, a large rally was held in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, calling for the establishment of an eight-hour workday. The police were trying to disperse a public assembly when an unidentified person threw a bomb at the police. The police responded by firing on the workers, killing four demonstrators. Eight officers were also killed, and scores of people were wounded. One of the survivors of the events was “Mother” Mary Harris Jones.

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” was Mother Jones’ notorious motto.

While Mother Jones sometimes used violent rhetoric in her inflammatory speeches, the actions she organized were nonviolent actions – boycotts, strikes, marches, walk-outs, work stoppages, rallies, speeches, and picketing. For all her appearance as a five-foot tall, one hundred pound, grandmother dressed in old-fashioned (even for the era) black dresses, Mother Jones was one of the most popular and effective labor organizers of her time. She was present at the Haymarket Massacre, and it is in recognition of these events that she began to claim her birthday as May 1st.

The exact date of her birth is uncertain, but we do know she was born in Cork, Ireland. When she was barely 10 years old, she witnessed the horrors of the potato famine, which drove her family from their homeland to Toronto, Canada. At 23, she moved to the United States, and in 1861, she married George Jones. Six years, later, a yellow fever epidemic struck Memphis, killing George and their four children.

Biographer Elliott Gorn writes, “Now a 30-year-old widow, Jones returned to Chicago and dressmaking, where her tiny shop was burned out in the great fire of 1871. For the next quarter century, she worked in obscurity. As the new 20th century approached, Mary Jones was an aging, poor, widowed Irish immigrant, nearly as dispossessed as an American could be. She had survived plague, famine, and fire, only to confront a lonely old age.”

Beginning with rebuilding work after the great fire of 1871, Jones became involved with the Knights of Labor. When they dissolved, she began organizing with the United Mine Workers. She cofounded the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), which at its founding was the only labor organization that included women, immigrants, African Americans and Asians in the same organization. Mother Jones traveled the country by rail and foot. From the late 1870s through the early 1920s, Mother Jones participated in hundreds of strikes in all regions of the country.

“My address is like my shoes,” she said, “It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong.”

In 1903, Jones organized children who were working in mills and mines to participate in a “Children’s Crusade,” a march from Philadelphia to the summer home of President Theodore Roosevelt in New York with banners demanding “We want to go to school and not the mines!” The campaign succeeded in raising public awareness, and was widely covered by the newspapers during the two months of the march.

She died on November 30th, 1930 and claimed to be 100 years old. At one point in her life, when she was denounced on the floor of the United States Senate as the “grandmother of all agitators,” she replied: “I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.”

More articles by:

Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
Wade Sikorski
Oil or Food? Notes From a Farmer Who Doesn’t Think Pipelines are Worth It
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of Vengeance
Hilary Moore – James Tracy
No Fascist USA! Lessons From a History of Anti-Klan Organizing
Linn Washington Jr.
Ridiculing MLK’s Historic Garden State ‘Firsts’
L. Michael Hager
Evaluating the Democratic Candidates: the Importance of Integrity
Jim Goodman
Bloomberg Won’t, as They Say, Play Well in Peoria, But Then Neither Should Trump
Olivia Alperstein
We Need to Treat Nuclear War Like the Emergency It Is
Jesse Jackson
Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin
Wendell Griffen
Grace and Gullibility
Nicky Reid
Hillary, Donald & Bernie: Three Who Would Make a Catastrophe
David Yearsley
Dresden 75
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail