Mother Jones fearlessly questioned corporate rule and earned the title “the grandmother of all agitators.” She is a figure who lives on because the issues she raised are still of concern to us, still relevant in the twenty-first century.
There was no single person more responsible for the Mother Jones monument and its message than Joe Ozanic. And no other single person more vigilant about keeping its memory tied to the Progressive Miners, not the more radical and universal cause that Mother Jones was better known for when she died. Joe's monument is around the location that Mother Jones originally requested she be buried. facing the Virden martyrs.
Joe Ozanic was president of the Mt. Olive miners local when the Illinois miners split from the United Mine Workers over suppression of their voice and took on John L. Lewis. They split because Lewis worked with coal operators to lower the Illinois miners wages. They saw Lewis working with police and reactionary forces in southern Illinois to attack their peaceful 1932 march to shut down the mines. After this repression, they bolted and organized the Progressive Miners union.
When the Progressives bolted from the UMWA, they could not have anticipated that UMWA president Lewis would, in a few years, become the leader of the largest challenge to U.S. capitalist power in a generation, a major force in a kind of inclusive industrial unionism Mother Jones endorsed. After all, in 1932 he forced miners to endure substandard wages in collusion with the mine bosses. He hired thugs in the Illinois coalfields to intimidate rebels.
But in one of the most important developments of the 1930s, Lewis led a revolt from the conservative American Federation of Labor--to form a new labor federation--the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Lewis hired communists and other leftists, including Adolph Germer, the socialist from Mt.Olive who had been strategic in bringing Mother Jones to be buried in Mt. Olive and keeping the Virden Martyrs commemorations going. Because Germer sided with Lewis and the new federation, he was barred from the cemetery thereafter. You won't find Germer's grave in Union Miners Cemetery, because Ozanic and the Progressives banned him.
Over 4 years from 1932-1936, 21 Progressives were killed in the mine wars. Progressives felt they were honoring the Virden martyrs and the tradition of Alexander Bradley's march as well as Mother Jones. They felt that Mother Jones would never think that it was o.k. to mend fences with Lewis.
In the spirit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Progressives, and especially Ozanic, felt they could win favor and funding from the American Federation of Labor if they opposed the CIO, which had split from the AFL. Their lawyers also told the PMA to purge their radicals in order to gain favor from the new federal government labor board that would rule on representation in the coalfields.
But Lewis, situated in Washington D.C., was winning the favor of the federal government's labor board machinery. In 1935, Lewis funded most of Frankin Delano Roosevelt's presidential election campaign with UMWA dues.
Ozanic regularly denounced any efforts at ending the factional battles, even when the members of the PMA felt it was leading them to oblivion. And they regularly denounced the CIO as communist-influenced to win the favor of the AFL.
Agnes Burns Wieck, the militant head of the Progressive Miners women's auxiliary, was forced out of leadership, and the men of the PMA reigned in the women's role. This was done in order to win the battle against Lewis.
The Progressives even banned May Day, the day Mother Jones had embraced as her designated birthday, and denounced it as un-American.
For five nights before the 1936 dedication, Joe Ozanic had guards over the monument, for fear that the UMWA would blow it up. See story at http://www.minewar.org/?p=2047
Jack Battuello, head of the nearby Wilsonville Illinois local of the PMA, thought the factional battle was destroying the legacy of both Mother Jones and the Virden Martyrs. Battuello led miners in a sit-down strike that occupied the mine in May 1937. By that time, the CIO was engaging in these forms of direct action for labor rights across the country. Why was the PMA on the opposite side of this movement, he wondered.
But Ozanic had one main goal: the defeat of John L. Lewis and the UMWA, and establishment of the PMA in opposition to what he viewed as an undemocratic autocrat.
Ozanic proclaimed that the sit-down was a form of CIO un-American strategies. Ozanic was busy getting AFL support to continue their battle against Lewis, and wanted to prove that they would not support the CIO style of strategy. There was a strange irony: they were condemning the CIO split from the AFL at the same time they had split from the UMWA. When the CIO promised financial assistance for the sit-down, it made Ozanic angry at the Wilsonville local.
One has to wonder what might have happened if the miners had merged back into the CIO at this moment. Instead, the fratricide would continue to limit entrance to the monument and the meaning of Mother Jones and the Virden martyrs legacy in the mid 20th century.
Above: Only Progressives and AFL welcome at the memorial. By banning CIO attendance at the monument, and wedding itself to the AFL, the Progressives restricted the meaning of the martyrs and of Mother Jones and kept them apart from the memory of a new generation of activists in the CIO. It's a part of the reason Mother Jones' memory was contained.
In the end, the Progressives lost their legal strategy for representation of miners in Illinois and across the U.S. because the labor board did side with the UMWA despite the evidence.
The sit-downs and militant direct actions in the tradition of Mother Jones were the strategies that worked in the 1930s. But Mother Jones was not associated with them. Simply put: the Progressives lost, and this framed Mother Jones story for a good part of the 20th century. She was confined to a meaning that was only part of her story.
The feud kept going only as long as the AFL funded it and got something from it. The Progressives were forced out of the AFL in 1946 when Lewis led the UMWA back into the AFL when he had a disagreement with the CIO federation. Suddenly, no AFL funding of the campaign against Lewis. It was a bitter pill, especially when miners lost pensions and jobs as a result of the factionalism. Ozanic kept pictures of all the men and women who died in the 1930s battle for union representation on his office wall. From his perspective, Lewis' collusion with the mine owners during those battles was the hardest memory, and the one that he sought to used as the canon for Mother Jones. He sought to keep the cemetery secured for that memory. "Let no traitor breathe over my grave," Mother Jones' injunction, in his mind, referred to Lewis and those men who had crossed the line to be represented by a dictator. There were others in Mt. Olive who kept that single flame alive. When the Illinois Labor History Society and radicals from Springfield sought to renew the universal commemorations in the 1970s, former Progressives in Mt. Olive welcomed it-as long as no UMWA representatives were allowed near the monument! They liked to remember Jones as a spunky rebel, much like themselves--but not a radical thinker. Springfield, Illinois-based socialist groups and militant trade unionists revived commemorations beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, and persevered in a steady service on or around October 12--miners day in Illinois. They sought to restore the radical spirit of Mother Jones. They eventually came together under the Springfield-based Mother Jones Foundation, which slowly rebuilt the commemoration of Mother Jones' legacy more universal, beginning in 1984.