18 November 2015: Henderson Mine closing & honoring Joe Hill

Henderson Mine closing & honoring Joe Hill, RIP

The impending Henderson Mine closing is not surprising in the sense it is part of every extraction industry’s boom-bust cycle. Minerals and other deposits—oil, gold, or molybdenum—are finite. Every oil well goes dry; every mine plays out.

On the one hand, the closing will provide opportunity for redevelopment that will reap incredible benefits to the Clear Creek community. Entrepreneurial and visionary types are licking their chops.

Above ground, the complex can restored essentially to its natural state and provide space for recreation: skiing, hiking, mountain biking, etc. Underneath, the cavern might serve as a school of sorts for scientists, geologists, and other curious-minded explorers. In that sense, the closing is far from a cataclysm, an end-of-the-world scenario.

On the other, the closure is an earthquake replete with shockwaves and tremors already reverberating across the community. Our county tax base will be halved impacting more than county services. Public boards, about which I have been writing of late, dependent upon tax dollars to carry out their missions, will be impacted.

More important though than tax bases and programs to be cut is the human cost: People are and will be losing jobs. While we understand that is part of any economy, especially one that is dependent upon nonrenewable materials, intellectually understanding that is a far cry from experiencing it. When you are the one losing your job, the pain is not third-person other; it is first-person I.

Of late, we have been treated to the antics of Donald Trump, the latest buffoon with an outsized view of himself. History is replete with them. They are empire builders. The ruins of ancient cities are littered with their detritus. All mighty and great, but now dead.

One hundred years ago, John D. Rockefeller was the Trump of his day. He was a nasty man who built an empire on the backs of his workers. In Colorado, it was Rockefeller’s goons, aided and abetted by the Colorado militia, who massacred defenseless men, women, and children during the 1914 Ludlow coal strike. It will forever remain a black mark on our state’s legacy.

That early twentieth-century time was foaming with strife. World War I was in full bloom in Europe and here in America, war had been declared on the people doing nothing more than trying to improve their lives and living standards, workers who are the true builders of empires.

In that foment was a man who has come to be known to us as Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant who wrote songs and sang the travails of those that make it all work. His efforts among the Industrial Workers of the World—the Wobblies—were more than part of improving the human condition: They shook the world of industry and of the state.

The historical annals state that on November 19, 1915 the state of Utah executed Hill. But in reality, Utah performed a state-sanctioned assassination. There is no other way to put it.

The great western novelist, Wallace Stegner, captures Hill’s story in his work, “Joe Hill: An Autobiographical Novel.” In it, Stegner assiduously describes the events that led to Joe’s end.

We are not where we were 100 years ago. Workers’ plights are greatly improved thanks to the efforts of labor leaders and political leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who minced no words when talking about the Trumps of his time. He called them “economic royalists.”

Corporations are integral parts of a capitalistic economy. Freeport-McMoRan, the parent company of Henderson, is not today’s Standard Oil of Rockefeller’s day. It has been a good steward of the land and is working to help the Clear Creek community transition to the post-Henderson era.

Nevertheless, it is not a flesh-and-blood human entity despite the Supreme Court’s blessings. The miners, managers, and others dependent upon their employment to pay their bills and enhance their human dignity are flesh and blood. And it is about those, in the tradition of Joe Hill, we ought to be fretting. For them, this isn’t about numbers; it is about survival.

Just before his death, Hill wrote to Bill Haywood, the former president of the Western Federation of Miners.

“Goodbye Bill,” he wrote. “I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

Me either.

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