Kingsolver, chapter 1

Kingsolver, chapter 1 - floodplain of the San Francisco...

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Unformatted text preview: floodplain of the San Francisco River. But back in 1944 when she left her family’s farm in Arkansas and struck out for Arizona, Flossie was footloo se and on her own. She’d heard that the with a trace of lingering home— the Arizona mines this one was and dump it on a belt, whatever they s ' did everything there was to do on a fa hard work, and when we went to the b it was extra—hard work. We’ rm, but not necessarily like that. It was ucket room where they run the samples, . Mines A Forests and Mountains Sonoran Desert 50 100 miles 4 HOLDING THE LINE This didn’t slow Flossie down. “Well, sure, the men would call you a nasty name, but you’d learn how to call them one back and go ahead. I always said if I wanted to go and do such things I would sure find a nicer place to do them than in the muck and the water on that ball mill floor!” Janie Ramon in a sailor—striped T—shirt is not the first thing that comes to mind when you picture a miner. She is small and compact, with long dark hair and a cheerfully defiant disposition. She was hired at the Ajo mine in 1973, after a union’backed lawsuit forced the company to accept applica— tions from women—this time without a declaration of war. It was nonethe— less a battle: many women say they had their applications in the Phelps Dodge office for years without acknowledgment. It took most of them more than a decade to make their way into skilled jobs in the Phelps Dodge mines. But they had families to support, and the mining towns offer a woman little else in the way of financial security: car‘hop jobs at the Sonic Burger, work at the laundromat, a handful of secretarial positions at the courthouse. Some women, desperate or brave, saw no choice but to hold out for work in the mine. Janie was twenty years old when her father died in a car accident. Her family’s security went with him to the grave, and so did her college career. She took a deep breath and applied herself to becoming a miner. Janie was the first woman ever hired at Ajo, as far as she knows, and she says without hesitation that it was terrible. She was shuffled around like a wild card and harassed without mercy. “They didn’t really know what to do with me. They asked if I would mop floors and clean bathrooms, which I did.” Eventually she landed in the paint shop. “ The following year, ten other women joined Janie at the Ajo pit. One of' them, Betty Copeland, weighed ninety—two pounds when she was hired as a laborer. While many men gave her a hard time, she found that some of her male co—workers were at first surprisingly encouraging. Eventually her father told her why. The men had placed bets on whether or not she would last two weeks. Most of them lost money; ten years later, Betty still hadn’t quit. Jean Lopez immediately described herself to me as “nobody really, just a mom She’s youthful—looking to be the mother of teenagers. She’s also outgoin articulate, and a far cry from “nobody really.” Jean spent her entire childhood in sight of the smokestacks of the Moren smelter. Her grandfather Brigham Hernandez fought to get the Mine—M‘ union in Morenci; before that, he was railroaded out of Bisbee in the ruthles 1917 deportation. Jean heard these stories from her father, a miner who’s no The Devil’s Domain 5 retired. “The thing that really sticks in my mind about growing up here,” she said, “is that every three years there was a strike. Every three years. We had to make sacrifices to keep going. We were a family of six, and they didn’t make much money at that time. “This was just part of life—life in a mining town. After the strike would end, my family would start planning for the next one. When another strike was coming up, we knew we would be eating beans and tortillas again for as long as it would take. It didn’t really bother us. My memories of all that are not bad. I admire my father, never being a scab, never even thinking of it. The unions were tight here. Almost everybody in the area was raised that way. “It wasn’t until I got married that I really understood the importance of a union. I married a miner, of course. He and I went to high school together. My husband was also born and raised here—his father worked for the com; pany, and his grandfather; it goes on and on and on. So after we got married then I was in charge of the finances. I would ask my mother,‘God, how did you make it?’ I only had one kid then—she’d had four! And she’d say,‘Well, you know God will never let you die of hunger. But you have to have the guts to stand up for what you believe.’ ” The strike of ’83 turned out to be in every way more difficult than any Jean had known before. She stood up for what she believed, and it cost her plenty. She can’t imagine having done otherwise. Women have no business with a mine—they lack the muscle and moral fiber needed for the job. That belief is the strange cornerstone of many a mining tale, including this one, a story of women who spent two years on a picket line holding together the body and soul of a strike. There were a few dozen of them, or a few hundred, depending on how you count—at any rate, there were enough. The story could begin on any one of a thousand days. One is June 30, I983. ‘ The miner’s contract was ticking like a bomb, set to expire at midnight. The unions had been working for weeks to reach a settlement with all five of Arizona’s copper—producing companies. Miners knew very well that times weren’t good for copper, so they offered what they felt they could give: frozen - _ Wages for the duration of the next three—year contract, provided they would ‘ ‘ :illl get cost—of—living protection tied to the consumer price index. Four of ' 6 companies involved—Kennecott, Asarco, Magma Copper, and Inspiraa tion Consolidated—settled with little delay. The fifth, Phelps Dodge, refused g offer and asked workers to take further cuts in wage scales, benefits, holi— _ H Y and vacation time, and an end to cost—of—living protection. This was less 6 HOLDING THE LINE than the workers could live with. At one minute after midnight on July 1, Phelps Dodge employees at the Morenci, Ajo, Bisbee, and Douglas mines walked off their jobs. The normal cacophony of mining and smelting noises went dead still. Outside in the hot desert night, supporters waited along the road to clap and cheer as the strikers trailed away from the mine gates in a long caravan of cars and pickup trucks. But Phelps Dodge didn’t intend to let its operations close down. And so the fight began, with every action inciting an opposite—not necessarily equal—reaction. When the company began bringing in replacement work’ ers, striking miners lined up at the gates in protest. When Phelps Dodge won a court injunction barring the miners from assembling at the gates, women supporters called mass pickets of their own. When the Women’s Auxiliary was also barred from the line, they changed their name and increased their numbers. When the National Guard and riot troops from Arizona’s Depart— ment of Public Safety (DPS) rolled in to occupy Clifton and Morenci, no one imagined the strike could last much longer. The women organized rallies, pickets, and more rallies. They were tear—gassed and arrested. They swore and screamed and sometimes threw rocks, and always they showed up for the picket. Thirteen months later, when they were still on the line, a DPS officer re— marked in what was to become the most famous summation of the strike, “If we could just get rid of these broads, we’d have it made.” Fina Roman, president of the Morenci Miners Women’s Auxiliary, called a meeting to respond to this statement. “They’ll never be rid of us,” she declared with controlled anger. “Do they ask us to forget the elderly being tear—gassed? Do they ask us to forget the beatings and arrests? To forget the past genera— tions who handed down a sacred trust to preserve a dignified way of life won , through tremendous sacrifices? Do they ask us to give this up without a fight?” In fact most onlookers did expect a quiet surrender. They underestimated the stakes. The “sacred trust,” as Fina called it, is not an easy thing for outsid— ers to understand. It occupies a different dimension from wages and benefits: it is family history, honor, a promise never yet broken. Its value is measured by the risk mining families took to defend it, for a strike means putting earn— ings, possessions, friendships, and sometimes lives on the line. Mining history is bound together with a long chain of strike martyrs and an even longer chain of bereaved families left behind to fight for their daily bread. When a strike erupts into external drama, news hounds swarm like moths to the flame: testy standoffs, brandished weapdns, a trickle of blood—great copy. But in the shadow, ignored by all voyeurs, are the family stories and tedious losses that constitute a strike. The paycheck stops coming and there’s The Devil’s Domain 7 no guarantee of when, or if, it will resume. The sofa is repossessed, and then the station wagon. The mail carrier who used to bring birthday cards and happy news is now a dreaded harbinger of shutoff notices, foreclosures and evrction papers. Children’s outgrown school clothes aren’t replaced and their birthdays pass without presents. There is little glamour in impoverished lives If it were your family, would you do it? In the last nights before a contract expires, between tears, prayers, spousal rage, or eyes locked in promise the decision gets made, one anxious household at a time. Never lightly. Anyone who thinks of a strike as a simple gamble on big money has never been through one, or near it. Mainstream news media generally manage to create a carica— ture of strikers that associates the words “overpaid” and “greedy” with “labor ” as surely as Florida has oranges and Arabs have oil. But wages are often sec— ondary to considerations like workplace safety and medical benefits. (Some’ times, as in the case of the air traffic controllers’ strike, at issue are working conditions that affect the public safety.) In recent years especially strikes in the United States have not been to demand more money but rather to resist drastic cuts. Five days into the Arizona strike, the state’s largest newspaper the Arizona Republic, pronounced its judgment: Gone are the days, its editorial page de— clared, “when labor could get away with bloated agreements that merely passed along the costs of lower productivity, higher wages and golden fringe benefits to the captive and unquestioning US. market. . . . Jobless Butte [Montana] miners undoubtedly would be very happy to accept what Phelps Dodge’s min— ers have refused.” Most of the Republic’s white—collar readers probably agreed with this assessment: as long as someone, somewhere, is willing to settle for less than a union wage, organized workers have no right to do otherwise Why should a guy who hauls rock get paid as much as I do? ’ That is probably a question best answered by a rock’hauling guy who is missing a limb or half his lung. But at that moment it wasn’t even the point In the media fanfare that attended the strike’s beginning, it was virtually possible to find in print the actual terms of the rejected contract—or the fact that Phelps Dodge miners had already volunteered to freeze their wages. If the issue were only money, this strike would have ended before it began Instead, it lasted through two scorched Arizona summers; some seventyvodd r Fridays without paychecks; one Christmas without presents, and then an? other; a hundredvyear flood. The question became not so much What will L they do next? but rather, Why on earth are they doing it? Why did a crew of Women declare their essential weakness while planting themselves like rocks , m . . g the road of a hellvbent anti’union corporation? When homeroom mothers 8 HOLDING THE LINE take up sticks and stones, when church choir sopranos grow scandaloust foul tongues, when a small tribe of housewives provide for a legion of families on government surplus cheese and thin air, it seems that anything could happen. Most of this story is the matter of what they did and how they did it, but first of all it’s important to understand why. There is no hope of deciphering this social alchemy without looking at it with a slanted eye through the spectacles of history. The story could begin on the day Flossie Navarro sashayed into the mine on the wind of World War 11. Or it could begin much earlier than that. In every season since the earth’s face was opened for dredging, women have worked in mines and they have fought for the safety and survival of miners. And always, it wasn’t exactly supposed to be that way. The hostility Flossie stirred as a miner still persists in Arizona’s copper pits, and is a tradition probably as old as mining itself, rooted in the mineral—rich soils of the Andes where the Incas opened mines before European ships ever touched the Americas’ shores. The keepers of these ancient Andean mines in the Bolivian alriplano have always described their world as two separate domains: one above ground, and one underneath. A benevolent, matronly earth goddess oversees growing crops and family life. But the stony undergrOund world carved out by miners seek— ing copper, tin, and silver—that is the devil’s domain. This devil’s name is Supay, and he has ruled miners’ lives from underneath their floors since before the Spanish conquest. When the mine shafts rumble and threaten to collapse, Bolivian miners assume it is Supay begrudging the ore they tap, little by little, from his glittering black veins. In the heart of , Bolivia’s mountainous mining region, the mining town of Oruro was the an— cient ceremonial center for the Incas. High priests claimed to travel from Peru through tunnels, passing secretly under the core of the Andes, and in full ceremonial dress they leaped out of the ground in Oruro. Now the tunnel’s V mouth is blocked with boulders, but festivals still celebrate the powers of . Supay. During the week of Carnival, Devil Dancers in red—tipped shoes and- horned masks jam the streets in a wild procession leading to the Church of the Mine Shaft. The festivities end with a ceremonial offering to Supay held: deep in the mine—where women can’t go. The devil’s domain is masculine, on Carnival days and on every working day of the year. Women in Bolivia may earn subsistence wages by picking through the slag heaps for overlooked: bits of ore, but the central economic pursuit of the region—mining—is closed to them. Tradition holds that a female presence in this special corner of hell would anger Supay terribly and cause a cave—in. If a woman went into th mines, the miners say, disaster would follow. The Devil’s Domain 9 ‘ In the open—pit mine in Morenci, Arizona, a steadily grazing herd of mech nized shovels raises a yellow haze of fine dust. This is the most productix: copper mine in North America. In the best of years it has yielded nearl 300,000 tons of metal; clearly this is the domain of both devil and dollar The copper smelter’s two smokestacks rise like a pair of giant horns out of the mountain’s granite pate. Below the horned promontory lies the pit. The earth’ entrails are laid open there in a pattern of descending steps that ex 0 h5 strange, delicate colors of a mountain’s insides; lavender pink blu: 5e t I: the miners labor here in the belly of a beast, gutting it moie deepl evegmd. then that beast is as tough as Prometheus, the thief in Greek mythdlo Ivlz’h ay’ punishment was to be disemboweled every day for eternity. Morenil’s mése cry—grandfathers, fathers, and sons—have worked this same scarred l 13’ scape for more than half a century. an ’ Around the mine and in the river valley below it lie the ordinary min‘ towns of Morenci and Clifton. Each of the two small towns has its hi h sch mlg its main drag, its dust—coated bouquet of blinking neon signs its sundfy handEil of bars and drive—in restaurants. No devil dances for Carnival in these st but even so, the germinal social order of Supay’s domain seems to holdreets, over all that has come after. A mine is a masculine enclave not just irjlltlaly Andes—the exact same social prescriptions surface wherever the earth '6 scratched. Flossie Navarro heard constantly that female workers would in: the mine. When women began working the Appalachian coal mines inlth late 19705, they confronted a centuries—old folk belief that a woman d e ground was bad luck and could cause a cave—in merely by her presence1n er’ ‘Who could blame miners for an excessive-interest in bad luck7 With Without a woman’s presence, to mine ore is to flirt with disaster. Betw or 196I and 1973, for example—years when most of us held an anxious e e Cerfn perilous occupation overseas—more than half a million disabling injuriZs ha 2—1 plened in US. mines. That’s nearly twice as many as befell all US. soldiers l’n ietnam. The mean death rate for miners during those years was a ro ‘ {nater 1,080 per million, and for active’dury personnel, about 1 270 If: [1):er rifles: figures are from the National Safety Council and Department of Shafts CO1 I: osrmatioln, respectively). If war is hell, so is mining: underground ref . p e, sme ter furnaces explode, lung disease is endemic. In few other p Ie-ssi‘ons are the odds so stacked against living long enough to retire. arertfmight be tempting to blame the Devil or a woman, but these poor odds t so much laws of nature as of economics. Most cave—ins could be pre— _ vent ‘ ' ' I ore fed With enough supporting timbers. Extra drying time will keep damp prenn 0:11 tfiatpclloding in a furnace. But every penny spent on precaution is a Y 0 e from the business of mining ore. Safety costs money; speedy 10 HOLDING THE LINE production costs lives. It’s a familiar formula that has never yet been solved by cool algebra. Obviously, miners have a strong interest in their side the equation and have forever sought to organize for better working conditions, longer lives, and better—fed children—and this, too, is a history punctuated by disaster. Every country that has tapped its mineral wealth has accumulated grisly stories of strikes, repression, and massacres. r . ' In our passion to touch andretouch the’past, we often create a history that polishes the marble surface of events to a bright shine and ignores the mortar . that holds the wall in place. The contributions of women to mining history are L mostly invisible, but they are a good part of the reason the wall still stands. Of the multitude of woman—led strikes that have to be taken for granted, a few are well documented. The film Norma Rae, based on an actual strike in a textile . . mill, popularized the image of a modern working woman devoted to her umon. ' - But at least three earlier U.S. strikes in which women played leading roles have , .7 been recorded or reconstructed on film. With Babies and Banners documents - r the 1937 strike against General Motors in Flint, Michigan, in which women auto'workers and workers’ wives-—dubbed the “Red Berets”——held the battle out front while male workers occupied the Fisher I and II automotive plants for more than a month. (Women workers were sent out before the sit—7 down in order to avoid the appearance of licentiousness.) In 1973, women ‘: sustained the horrific coal strike at the Brookside mine in Kentucky on a steady of soup—kitchen stamina and political zeal; that strike was the subject of rithe documentary Harlan County USA. And at a point intime halfway between " theFlint and Brookside strikes, while McCarthyism burned white—hot, a mili— V tant'strike led by women against Empire Zinc in Hanover, New Mexico, was immortalized in the film Sal: ofrhe Earth. , V. Of the'three, the 1951 Empire Zinc strike especially foreshadowed the com— lexities of the Phelps Dodge strike. Both were shaped by the special coné ofgeconomics, ethnicity, and gender that impregnate the social fabric of ahiSolated, predominantly Mexican'American mining town, where a women’s plaCe is in the home, or on the line——depending. ‘ ‘ , is the fOrtune of the woman warrior, too frail to defend her nation in attle‘but sturdy enough to take her nation’s in a strike. Every tradi' price, and most have been bought and sold many times over—- history'often decides that a woman’s place is to do the work of men for half / pay. ,Flossie Navarro and her companions, who a year earlier couldn‘t " gotten a job selling sandwiches in a mine, were gladly given hard hats a pr price tag on copper. Fifteen years earlier, hundreds of Bolivian women ,,\, ‘4 m g rc: ('1 o E 05‘ a :1 §. m... '8 "Po 9.. The Devil’s Domain 11 were recruited for underground labor while their sons and husbands attended a war on the hot plains of Paraguay. Apparently, Supay took a vacation. If the Inca‘pi‘iests and all subsequent religious and economic rulers regarded women miners as unholy, those who profited by supplying metal for the Chaco War, or copper for World War 11, did not. This is how the supernatural order of a thousand years can be eclipsed by government edict, though it’s likely to pre— vail again promptly when the war is over. The use of women in mines at convenient historical moments is at least as old as capitalism. Emile Zola’s novel Geminal, written in 1885, tells of an actual disaster that killed women along with men in the shafts of a French coal mine. Women and children commonly worked underground in England, as a natural outgrowth of the working—class family economy in preindustrial society, until it was prohibited by law in 1842. The gentle Victorians were mortified by the savage world of mining (it provided themwith such Dantean fantasies as John Martin’s famous illustrations of Paradise Lost), and they hotly debated whether women should be excluded legally from mine work. Nine— teenth—century attitudes showed araging ambivalence toward female employ— ment—~and females, period. The “pit—brow lasses” who sorted coal above— ground at British mines were seen as the very essence of degraded woman, hood. This view overlooked the realities of life for working‘class families, and the appetite of mining companies for low‘cost labor The women who mined ore in England, France, Bolivia, or Clifton, Ari» zona, were a few among many who have been picked up on a wave, carried into the current, and beached again like driftwood, swept by the tides of defi— cit and profit. The rule applies not just to women but to any subordinate ' population; employers call them “an expandable labor force.” During the nine' teenth and early twentieth centuries in what became the‘U.S. Southwest, miners of Mexican descent experienced the same contradictions as women, as the industry’s expendables. When eastern investors in the Phelps Dodge Corporation began to de— velop a profitable copper industry in the region just after the turn of the cen— tury, the anti—alien laws they constructed were as utilitarian and malleable as *7 the metal itself. For example: at the Copper Queen mine in Bisbee, Arizona, underground shafts reached precious deposits of silver and gold, and mining was regarded as a skilled, wellapaying craft. Mexicans were explicitly forbid— den to work underground. But in other Arizona mines where geology called for different methods and attitudes, the rules changed. In the Clifton—Morenci district the open—pit mine required an immense, unskilled labor force. In contrast to the all—European Bisbee mine, Morenci mine records from 1917 12 HOLDING THE LINE describe a work camp that was 80 percent Mexicans, 15 percent Spaniards and Italians, and only 5 percent “whites”—meaning European Anglo—Sax— ons. Workers for the Morenci operation were imported from Mexico en masse. These laborers were regarded as beasts of burden and paid only slightly better than the average mule, even though their descendants say that many who crossed the border from Sonora were skilled miners and smelters. The mineros from the south brought more than strong backs and a residual memory of Supay. Outside the mining museum at Jerome, Arizona, sits an old “Chilean wheel”—an efficient ore—crushing technology that was used extensively in Latin America before being introduced into Arizona, probably by Mexican miners. Their stories have been lost, in the main, but their knowledge en» riched the industry. Workers of Mexican heritage have continued to serve as the spine of the mining operations in the Southwest. In Arizona mining towns today, Spanish surnames are as ubiquitous as the mesquite and palo verde trees that root in the baked—brick soil, unroll their leaves, and wait for water. It’s hard for an out— ' sider to understand how either the trees or the miners have survived. In the I early days, Mexican laborers could earn as little as twelve cents per day and were obliged to buy their necessities from company stores that inflated prices 5 shamelessly. Payroll records of Jerome—Verde Copper show that a better—paid Mexican laborer in 1916 received about nineteen dollars for a six—day week before hospital and store deductions. Employees with English surnames, listed as “miners” rather than “laborers,” were paid thirty—three dollars for the same week’s work. Mexicans“ were discouraged, generally and specifically, from as piring to skilled positions. A Mexican miner who touched a locomotive would be fired on the spot. I The men in Mike Baray’s family belonged to this caste of laborers; his fa ther and grandfather were two of the “Mexican imports” of 1915. Mike him self was born in 1921 within a stone’s throw of the Morenci smokestacks When he married his wife Stella in 1939, he was already a miner. Stella re" members her wedding day well. “We didn’t go on any honeymoon, becaus’ Mike was working seven days a week. He didn’t get off work.” On the afternoon Stella and Mike sat with me in the Steelworkers’ Hall in Clifton, Stella let her husband do most of the talking. Mike is an energeti- man with a creased face and hands deeply darkened by years of outdoor work He was eager for talk. The Company’s way, he told me, was to pay two kinds wages: one for Mexicans, one for Anglos. “There were very few Mexicans w ever got to be tradesman. If you were Mexican they thought you didn’t ha any skills, so they would put you on as a laborer. We used to get $2.80 a da 1. but official company housing provided by Phelps Dodge for its employees. The Devil’s Domain 13 Most laborers worked under Classification D, known as Pick and Shovel. There was little incentive to rise through the ranks; a worker’s fate was pretty well sealed with the “laborer” brand. “If you worked real hard and got pro: moted to Labor C, they would give you a broom and two cents more,” Mike explained. “For Labor B you would be helping some carpenter or somebody.” And so on. Regardless of the classification it was hard work, low pay, and Mexicans who did it. Anglos could work in the machine shop or other trades; sometimes they started there without previous experience. The machine shop in particular, according to Mike, had what was known as the “family deal”— sons of the men who worked there automatically moved into their fathers’ positions when they came to work in the mine. “Their daddies broke the fall gave them their classifications. So we could never get in there.” Mike stopped talking for awhile after that. Stella looked at her hands, as if her swollen knuckles held the pain of her husband’s past. Mike let his eyes rise toward the cracked—plaster ceiling of the Union Hall, and allowed his memory to roam with a hungry anger over the years before unions. Scenes from South Africa that shock the international conscience—desti— tute, dusty shanty towns where Black children grow up in the shadow of a privileged life they cannot touch—are not so different from what Arizona mining towns looked like when Harry Truman was president or, for that mat— ter, John Kennedy. As late as the I960s, segregation here was absolute. It extending to housing, schools, movie theaters, and social clubs. The first in— terracial couple in Morenci—a white woman who married a Mexican man—— couldn’t rent a house for decades. As one woman who grew up here put it, 1‘ . . . ‘ There was a separate everything.” In A10, Mex1canaAmericans were allowed 7 to sw1m in the public pool once a week, on Wednesdays, just before the water was changed. For a very long time this way of life was accepted on both sides as more or less unassailable. Eddie Marquez was born in Clifton in 1920 and has lived there most of his life; to him, discrimination is as tangible as geography. He pointed out its hills and valleys to me one morning from his back yard. “When RD. built new houses up there in Morenci, we knew they would be for Anglos. We Mexicans lived in a part of town called Tortilla Flats. And the poor Indie ' ans! They had a place across the river called Indian Town—you can still see _ I, q, Where it was—that was nothing but tents and shacks.” It was hard to bear in r mmd, during this graphic travelogue through recent American history, that Ed . ‘ die was not talking about squatters’ camps and homeowners’ neighborhoods, 14 HOLDING THE LINE In these isolated towns the Company dictated virtually every physical as’ pect of life: housing, schooling, social life. If Company policy was racist, then the confines of race were inescapable. It’s easy enough, then, to understand why Mexican—Americans were leaders of the union movement: fighting the conditions of their employment provided the only recourse against injustice. It was close to the turn of the century when Arizona miners began their slow, steady effort to organize. Phelps Dodge has held dominion among the state’s copper companies since 1900, and the corporation’s history has been marked by some wellvknown clashes with its employees. The most notorious of these boiled over just as the US. economy was mobilizing for World War 1. Thanks to the booming demand for communications cable and shell jackets, Phelps Dodge enjoyed more than a 200 percent increase in net profits over the previous year. The comparative meagemess of their wages rankled the miners, and their unions gained broad support. But in 1917 their broadside collided with superior force: in the quiet of an early July morning, a posse of sheriff’s deputies and vigilantes rode into the streets of Bisbee, arrested some two thousand striking miners and sympathizers, forced them into waiting box; cars of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad (a Phelps Dodge subsidiary), and hauled them over 173 miles of desert to a detention camp in central New Mexico, from which few ever returned to Bisbee. Much of the labor leadership of this era came from Mexican’Americans. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was seeking to exclude minorities from the craft unions to avoid driving down wages. The famous “Wobblies,”‘ or Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), had organized out of a general belief that the conservative AFL would never represent the entire working class, including women and minorities. These workers had little to lose by casting their fates to an independent, militant wind. One of the state’s first labor disputes, in July 1915, was a work stoppage known as the “Strike of the Mexicans” in the Ray, Arizona, mine. The strikers demanded and won a more I equitable wage standard and the right to organize. The Mexicans in the Morenci mine followed suit in September, with the additional demand that white fore’ men stop harassing workers. The strike, which received little national sup— port, was carried out under the banner of the Western Federation of Miners. f The following year this union rechristened itself the International Union _ of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, better known as “Mine’Mill.” Because it was a Iaborers’ union its Arizona membership was overwhelmingly made up of Mexican‘Americans. In 1935, when the Mine‘Mill union affiliated with. the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Bisbee had an official local” charter and most other Arizona miners looked toward the day when the would have the same. The Devil’s Domain 15 The miners could be fired for union talk, so they organized in secret. A I prominent rabble—rouser in the Morenci mine was David Velasquez. He’d Started work there in 1937, and by the mid—19405 was operating a bulldozer as one of the few Mexican—Americans who had managed to get a better—pay: ing position. Nevertheless, his white co—workers told him the only union he ‘was entitled to join was the Iaborers’ union, “with the other Mexicans ” Velasquez wanted a union, so Mine—Mill it would have to be. . He and a handful of co'workers began calling meetings. “We had to meet up the river, in the cemetery,” he recalled. “There was an old church up there just four walls with no roof, that was our first meeting place. Or sometimes we would meet up on the mountains behind the mesquite bushes.” When they felt they had enough support to risk an election, they called one and Mine; Mill Local 616 was born in Morenci. ’ Their organizing efforts were truncated by World War II, which called vir— ’ tually every young miner to another front. The company, naturally, would find a way to go on extracting and selling copper. Mike Baray explained it this way: “During the War there weren’t hardly any men, so they brought in a bunch of Jamaicans, and a lot of women started working there too. They started some of the women out in the concentrator, operating the machinery because they said the jobs were easier. But some worked in the pit, too. After, I think, about eight months, the Jamaicans left. They said the work was tod 7 hard. But the women stayed.” The old’time mining men speak of these women with rare and unmistak— able respect. Eddie Marquez concedes that they were among the bravest and best mine workers Morenci has seen. “They were tough. You take Flossie Navarro and her sister Sue, they were a couple of toughies. Arid Rosie Patterson was tougher than heck, too. I knew them. They were good, hard'to—earth women, and they didn’t take no bull.” Flossie is undeniably tough. She didn’t hesitate to tell me or anyone else , how she felt about holding down what was reputed to be a man’s job: “Why, you didn’t have no choice, you just did it. You couldn’t say ‘let a man do it.’ You had to get right in there and lift and work right beside them.” Flossie mterrupted herself to fan the flowered bosom of her dress, as if memory alone _ could return her body to the inferno of the smelter. After a few seconds of reven‘e she looked at me with a gleam in her blue eyes. “I’ll tell you what. If . the men gave me trouble, I’d just say, ‘Well, damn ya. I’ll show you I can do it If you can.’ And that’s what you had to do.You couldn’t be a kiddie’baby and Cry for them to give you a easy job. You had to pull your weight.” For most of the war years the women in the Morenci mine had no union. They were organized briefly under the auspices of, oddly enough, the Amal— 16 HOLDING THE LINE gamated Clothing Workers of America, because it was considered a women’s union. But by all accounts the women miners were militant. They pulled off a wildcat strike for better working conditions. One of their demands was for “women’s things” (sanitary supplies) in the bathrooms. But according to Flossie, the incident that precipitated the strike was the firing of two sisters for allega edly “flirting with the floorwalkers.” She recollects that a hearing was called, and women packed the hall to testify about sexual harassment from the fore— men. The strike lasted only a few days; the women won their demands. When the boys in uniform returned at last, nearly everyone expected the women to go home quietly. “Phelps Dodge gave us a pretty good round,” Flossie says. “It wasn’t the bosses up there in the front offices, it was the floorwalkers that gave us trouble.” Eddie Marquez puts it another way. “The company was trying to push them out more or less on the sly. They said a woman couldn’t lift those sample buckets, that they couldn’t shovel on chains, and all that. They never said that during the war, just afterwards.” But by this time the Mine—Mill union had been officially chartered in Morenci, and it had a clause stating that “all people are created equal.” The women joined, and the union stood behind any who wished to keep their jobs in the mine. Flossie Navarro and several of her women comrades won the right to stay, and did. Flossie worked right on through several decades of modern history, more or less ignoring the Femi— nine Mystique of the fifties and the so—called birth of feminism in the sixties. She helped her husband support their eleven children until she reached a ripe age for retirement. Eddie Marquez, who fought to get Mine—Mill organized in Morenci, says the union held onto its radical reputation during the postwar years. In 1946, Mine—Mill led a 107’day strike that ended with the signing of its first con— tract, which included equal pay for all new hires. The union showed proof that three Arizona mining companies were hiring Anglo males as “helpers,” at $6.36 per shift, and “other employees” (Latinos and lndians) as “laborers,” at $5.21 per shift with no hope of raises or promotions. Mike Baray insists the union made a world of difference to Mexican work— ers, and eventually to all the workers. “After we got our union, other unions started coming in: pipe fitters, the machinists, the electricians—all the craft trades. But we Mexicans were really the fighters. We used to call those others the ‘me—too’ unions.” Marquez confirms this view. It’s his recollection, in fact, that the craft unions I rarely even negotiated a contract. “We would negotiate, then the Anglos would, The Devil’s Domain 17 come along and say, ‘Just sign me, too.’ The Mexicans fought harder because 4 we were discriminated against~these other guys had all the cushy jobs. After we got the union it got better and better.” Even so, the tradition of discrimination in Arizona mines was too tough to die. Roy Santa Cruz came into the Phelps Dodge mines in the mid—50s on what he called the Rustling Shift. “1t was like herding cattle. They would put everybody on a stage where they could look you over. They would pull out ten guys in a group, and the foreman would say, ‘You got a job for a day. I want you to take a big drink of water, because I don’t want to see you at the foun— tain. All I want to see is asses and elbows.’ All us Mexicans went straight to the track gang or the smelter. There were no clean jobs for us.” Previous agreements were supposed to have ended the dual wage scale and other blunt forms of discrimination, but inequities persisted. Well into the 1960s, for example, Anglo and MexicanvAmerican men still changed in sepa— rate facilities. The “Mexican locker rooms” were generally inferior and some— times had only cold showers. In Morenci the change rooms consisted of one original facility divided by a specially constructed barrier. Such was the im— portance of segregation. “The day they finally broke that wall down, everything changed,” recalls Mike Baray. A white co—worker complained that he would have to stop show— ering after work because he didn’t intend to do it in the presence of a Mexiv can. Baray told him, with a smile,“Well, that’s up to you.” In 1967 the unions tackled housing. Since even the roof over one’s head is a condition of employment in a company town, it dawned on miners that segregation was a union issue~n’ot just a fact of life. Through an eight—month strike they scored a victory over housing discrimination in Phelps Dodge towns. Eddie Marquez, by then a twenty—year veteran of his union, led the final ne— gotiations. “We met in the Steelworkers’ Hall in Douglas: federal housing people, Phelps Dodge, and the union negotiating committee. By that time we had the Unity Council [a coalition of all thirteen unions in the Morenci mine], so we got the others to go with us: the machinists, the United Trans— portation Union, everybody. Those UTU guys were all Anglos——P.D. didn’t let Mexicans on the trains at that time—but they were with us all the way.” Marquez says he’ll never forget the climax of that meeting. “Pat Scanlon told the government officials that the reason the company could not let us into the better housing was because the Mexicans——this is what he said—the Mexicans were very dirty. He said it right in front of us. The negotiating com— mlttee was mostly Mexican—American. We all went wild, including the Anglos. 18 HOLDING THE LINE Some UTU guys got up and said, ‘If they’re dirty, we are too! You go to a Mexican house and you won’t see anything but clean.’ We were really mad. Old Gonzalez started yelling, ‘Remember the Alamo! We Mexicans don’t quit!”’ M. Pat Scanlon was at that time assistant director for labor relations in Morenci. When I asked him about the remark Eddie Marquez claimed he’d made twenty years before, Scanlon denied having made it and did not re— member the meeting in question. “I do remember some bargaining sessions in which that was discussed,” he said. “Housing discrimination was a big subject at that time, because that was the period when things were changing in the US, and it was occasionally discussed with some heat. But I never would have said that.” By the time of the 1983 strike, Scanlon was vice—president of finance for the Phelps Dodge Corporation. Lydia Gonzalez Knott weathered the strike with her mother, son, and two daughters in a sea—blue house on a street that is never—like most other streets in Clifton—called by its actual name. The street sign is wrong anyway. The hill is so steep and cut with gullies that a small footbridge leads from the street to the house. The front porch, with wrought—iron railings and floor— boards worn smooth by generations of neighborhood children, overlooks the steep valley that holds the San Francisco River and the town of Clifton. Up at the head of the valley is the entrance to the Morenci mine. Lydia has lived in this house all her life. She is a miner’s daughter, a miner’s sister, and, since 1979, a miner herself. “When I was twenty—five and divorced with three kids to support,” she ex plained, “I knew it was time to go to work for the company.” She was hired initially as a laborer in the mill, later promoted to mill repair~the only woman on a crew of sixtyvsix. “I enjoyed the work because I was learning to do a lot of new things. I worked with jackhammers, sledgehammers, air wrenches that weigh 100 pounds. I can operate a 160mm crane.” When the strike came, there was no question. “My dad was president of the Boilermakers for over twenty—five years. He worked for the company for thirty—four years—~my mom is a union widow. My dad was strong in the union and gave it all he had. When the unions went out on strike, my brother and I didn’t have any choice. We knew if we crossed that picket line, Dad would 5 come out of his grave and pull on our feet at night.” That was the story, a hundred times over: money is important, sure, but in the long run you live with the ghost of your father. “I’m a striker,” says Glori Blase, “because I believe in what my dad fought for. He worked as a cran of high, forested rifts and valleys curving across the stat Canyon. Far to the west, across a vast, dry stretch of Toh vation, is Ajo; the word is Spanish for “garlic,’ much of anything green ever growing there. MorencivBisbee triangle of mines, and a in a Phelps Dodge town don’t often leav outlying area. The women, especially, have put it, “It’s a family town. We stay here.” ‘ time, similar forces acting on unrelated org manage to create similar—looking creatures. Thus every continent are home bil and some plant that looks like a cactus. In h The Devil’s Domain [9 operator for fifteen years before RD. gave him the same be operators.” Gloria’s father was Mexican, Tohono O’odham. Gloria grew up attuned to the desert’s seasons and the rhythm of contracts and strikes. She knew that for several months out of every third year, it was going to be beans and tortillas. For all they have in common, Gloria has in another Phelps Dodge town: Ajo, nefits as the white devoted to his union; her mother is never met Lydia because she lives Arizona. It’s possible, barely, to drive between Am and Clifton in a day. It’s a stunning drive, crossing through boulder—filled canyons and deep blue mountain ranges that rise up from the desert like coral reefs out of an ocean floor. In almost any season the drive is also spectacularly hot and wearisome. A traveler’s patience with stunning natural beauty will wear thin. But making that drive is probably the only way to get a conviction for the distance between these towns—a distance I never could quite believe in. On reaching Ajo, finding it cloaked in the same yel— low haze that envelops Morenci, I would strike up a conversation with some— one like Gloria and hear words that matched to the letter those of someone I’d talked with two hundred miles ago. Arizona’s mining towns are impossibly remote: from anything else. Bisbee, the old stronghold of the industry, is in the south eastern comer of the state, barely six miles from the Mexican border. North from there, more than a hundred slow, winding miles, lies with a pair of small towns on its lip: Clifton and Morenci. is tucked into the mountains at the edge of the Colorado far from each other and the Morenci mine The Morenci mine Plateau, a great rim e toward the Grand ono O’odham reser— ’ though no one remembers The nearest city of any size, Tucson, is roughly in the center of the Ajo— long drive from any. People who live e, unless it’s to work on a ranch in the little mobility. As Stella Baray In nature there is a phenomenon called convergent evolution: through anisms in widely separate places , for example, deserts on nearly to some animal that looks like a sand—colored gerv History has done something like this to the copper— . mining towns of Arizona. spite of their isolation from one another, the same force has wrenched and 20 HOLDING THE LINE sanded each of them into a shape that is noticeably the same. Identical themes surface in the lives of the people rooted there. It seems as if the great mineral hole that gapes open in each of these towns leads down through the earth like those ancient tunnels under the Andes. A person might walk down into one of these mines one day and surface in another mine a hundred miles away. Separated by a world of mountain and desert, the women of these disparv ate towns carried a single flag into battle when the time came. Nearly every one of them spoke of a grandfather who’d walked out of the Morenci mine in 1915 or left Bisbee by cattle car in 1917, or a father who struggled for a decent life while bearing discrimination like a scar. The threat to their standard of living was not just personally dangerous; they saw it as an insult to their anv cestors. These tiny, isolated towns have steeped for half a century in their own labor traditions and extracted a sense of pridethat provides their only medicine against hard times. Even for those women who weren’t miners themv selves, the union they’d grown up with was a tool as familiar to them as a can opener or a stove. They knew exactly where they would be without it: living in Tortilla Flats or Indian Town, barred from the social club, the library, and the swimming pool. Living with husbands who broke their backs and spirits for half a white man’s wage. Regardless of age or color, they’d be women liva ing with prospects no higher than carvhop and laundromat, women working against the odds, women damned as bad luck in a devil’s domain. They marched for the union because they knew in their bones a union banner was the only curtain between themselves and humiliation. Being cursed by scabs or the National Guard is a lesser evil by far than the curse of a father’s ghost. And when they marched into battle, they found skills they never suspected they had. Mothers who used to be too shy to speak up at a PTA meeting now crossed the country addressing crowds of thousands. While they were away, , their husbands learned to iron their own shirts. These women came home“ with a new way of looking at a power structure in which they’d been lodged ’ like gravel in a tire. Shirley Randall is the type who doesn’t open her mouth until she knows, exactly what she means to say. She is tallish and quiet, with an angular body uncompromised by T—shirt and union cap. Her demeanor is modest in the ” extreme. During the strike she was elected treasurer of the Morenci Miners II Women’s Auxiliary; in time that meant she would be responsible for rela— / tively enormous sums of money. Shirley says she had never thought of herself as a capable person. She dropped out of high school and didn’t collect the nerve to go back for her diploma until she was twenty—eight and a mother of The Devil’s Domain , she was hired as a general laborer in the Morenci mine. Four years later she quit because of continuous sexual harassment. “Men in this town . . .” she says simply, in a tone that explains a whole way of being born, llvlng, and dying. “I put up with so much from the men. They thought the wife’s place was in the home. “But when a lot of those same men went out on strike, you better believe they were glad to see me out there on the line.” ...
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Kingsolver, chapter 1 - floodplain of the San Francisco...

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