Title: Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War
Author: Thomas G. Andrews     
Year: 2008
Categories: Labor History, Environmental History, Gilded Age, Industrialism, American West
Place: Colorado
Time Period: 1867-1914

Argument Synopsis
Thomas Andrews merges labor and environmental history in an analysis of the half century leading up to the most violent labor unrest of the post-emancipation era: the Colorado coal-miner strike of 1913-1914 and the accompanying Ludlow battle/massacre and Ten Day Coalfield War. Andrews argues that the event cannot be seen in isolation, but as the culmination of half a century of struggle within an ecological context. He advances this through an explicit treatment of the environment, particularly in a concept of "workscape" - the dialectical interplay between working people and their surrounding environment. Andrews argues that the particular "workscape" of the Colorado mining fields played a crucial role in fomenting solidarity among miners and exacerbating tensions between capital and labor. 

Andrews points to the broader transition of industrial America in tipping from organic energy to that of mineral-intensive fossil-fuel consumption. Coal stood at the heart of this transition, and Andrews traces the hidden and utterly ubiquitous presence of coal in shaping the American West, from its use in agriculture and industry to its reshaping of social space in new urban centers (wealthier people being able to live farther away from dirty city center because of coal-powered transportation, migrants being able to cheaply move to coal fields on steamships and railroads). In turning to the actual miners, Andrews poses a fundamental paradox: how did a group of tremendously diverse people (industry open to a host of different ethnicities) marked by physical mobility and transience ever manage to achieve enough solidarity to coherently resist the capitalist order?

Andrews answers this question in part through the "workspace" of the coal fields. Under ground, conditions were remarkably dangerous as companies walked a fine line between worker safety and eking out more profits. Faced with this environment, workers fostered solidarity and brotherhood in the face of danger. Above ground, spatial ordering played a crucial role. Andrews looks at how an 1894 miner's strike fizzled out - in part because its failed to make inroads in "closed camps" of company-constructed and controlled towns. The company owners learned from this and thereafter ramped up their efforts to impose a top-down spatial ordering on the landscape, extending their control of workers via company stores, houses, clubs, and schools. Andrews argues that this strategy actually ended up backfiring (although he is not explicit in exactly how it did so), as workers resented a paternalistic, anti-democratic spatial reordering that extended the conflict between workers and company from not just in the workspace of the mines, but into the non-workplaces of their everyday lives. This culminated in the deadly strike and war of 1914, which depressingly ends with little changed for Colorado mine workers.

Key Themes and Concepts
- Hidden presence of coal in West - as fuel in agriculture, industry, mining
- Environmental interplay with labor - "workspace"
- Spatial ordering of mines and mining towns served to backfire (trying to impose order) 

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.