‘As important a story as any in America’
By CARL GREEN
Mt. Olive IL – The Mother Jones Monument saw one of its biggest crowds in years June 17 to celebrate the success of a fund-raising campaign, but the real message was how the famed labor leader still matters.
“She was hated by the corporations, but she was loved by the workers,” said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
“It’s as important a story as any in America,” added Larry Spivack, president of the Illinois Labor History Society. “She challenges the corporate mentality.”
While Mother Jones fought hard to improve working conditions and end child labor, her cause continues now in the battles for fair wages and the right to organize, both facing powerful opposition, Spivack said.
“Mother Jones is one of the most important people in the world,” he said. “If we don’t tell her story, then the story of her work will be lost.”
Irish immigrant and dressmaker Mary Harris (Mother Jones) began campaigning on behalf of working people and unions in the 1870s, following the Great Chicago Fire. She organized for the Mine Workers in several states despite reprisals from business and community leaders.
She testified in Congress about a National Guard massacre of 20 striking miners and relatives in Colorado, and she campaigned to rescue children forced into industrial work.
Before she died in 1930 at age of 100, she asked to be buried at Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, which was established to honor miners killed in the 1898 Virden Riot, in which armed guards fired on striking miners who were trying to halt a train carrying strike-breakers.
With more than 2,000 graves, Union Miners remains a viable cemetery, highlighted by the tall monument for Mother Jones, which has statues of two working miners among its accoutrements. It was erected in 1936. The town is in Macoupin County, just north of Madison County.
MONEY ROLLS IN
The monument has not had major renovations or repairs in more than 20 years, so the cemetery board and United Mine Workers locals last year started a campaign to raise $38,000 for cleaning, sealing and caulking, plus renovating the entrance.
The effort is already going well beyond that in scope.
The board secured the help of the Illinois AFL-CIO last year, which initiated its own fund-raising campaign. Construction of a pavilion and sprucing up the cemetery were added to the project’s work list.
Meanwhile, plans for a new City Hall were made to include a Mother Jones museum, a prospect that excites the monument’s keepers.
Tuesday’s event was hosted by state Sen. Andy Manar, (D-Staunton).
Carrigan presented an oversized check for $61,000 and promised more to come, with a goal of $112,000 and anticipated completion within a year and a half.
Ed Becker, the cemetery board president, was moved to see the large crowd turn out and the financial help finally arriving.
“We’ve struggled for years just to keep the grass cut,” he said, noting that his grandfather was general contractor for the monument and handled the funeral arrangements.
“I feel an obligation to carry that on.”
REMEMBERING MOTHER JONES
Jack Dyer of the Springfield-based Mother Jones Foundation, which holds an annual dinner honoring Mother Jones, told of how that group got started.
In 1986, Sangamon State University History Professor Ralph Stone invited a group of people to his home to talk about Mother Jones’ life and accomplishments, and that led to the first dinner, on a small scale. The school is now called the University of Illinois Springfield.
Dyer rattled off the increasing numbers of people attending each succeeding dinner and some of the well-known speakers and singers on the programs.
This year’s dinner will be the 29th in the series and is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 5.
Jim Goltz, of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, said the more people talk about Mother Jones, the more her legacy spreads to newer generations.
"It all began because people started talking about Mother Jones,” he said. “Her address was like her shoes – it went with her everywhere she went. There are going to be tears shed when that museum opens.”
Spivak recalled how his group led the effort that placed the monument on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and he reminded those in attendance of Mother Jones’ most famous motto: “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!”
Added Spivak: “When we do, I think our society will be much better off.”
How to donate to the monument restoration
Money is still needed for the monument restoration. Donations can be mailed to: Mother Jones Monument Restoration Fund, c/o Illinois AFL-CIO, 534 S. Second St., Springfield IL 62701.
Also, a collection is being taken to help furnish the Mother Jones Museum. Donations for that effort can be mailed to: Friends of Mother Jones Museum, c/o James Goltz, 2746 Ness School Rd. Bunker Hill, IL 62014.[/box]
The fund-raising campaign is a partnership between the Union Miners’ Cemetery Perpetual Care Association, Illinois AFL-CIO, Sen. Manar, the Illinois Labor History Society, United Mine Workers of America and the Mother Jones Foundation.
Union donors who have given more than $500 include:
• United Mine Workers of America and Locals 14, 1148, 1393, 1410, 1423, 1545, 1613, 1702, 1740, 1791, 2295, 2412, 2420, 7333, 9819 and Auxiliary 1570
• IBEW Locals 21, 34, 51, 308, 146, 15, 193, 725 and 364
• Iron Workers Locals 46, 63 and 392;
• LIUNA Locals 4, 751 and its District Council of Chicago and Vicinity
• AFSCME Locals 805, 1000/CSEA, 1805, 3776, Council 31, District Council 90 and Auxiliary 55
• Operating Engineers Locals 150 and 520
• Sewer and Tunnel Miners Local 2
• Illinois Fraternal Order of Police;
• Illinois Organizers Union
• Illinois Federation of Teachers
DONATIONS EXCEEDING $500
The Mt. Olive Education Association, representing Mt. Olive teachers who went on strike last December before reaching agreement and ratifying a new three-year contract, presented a check at the event.
Other individuals and groups giving more than $500 include:
• Amvets Auxiliary 55
• Illinois AFL-CIO
• City of Mt. Olive
• James and JoEtta Alderson
• Brotherhood Bank and Trust,
• Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 360 LEAD Fund
• Congressional candidate Ann Callis
• Decatur Trades and Labor Assembly
• James and Sharon Goltz
• Jerry and Vera Spurney family
• Marie Katchmar
• Mother Jones Foundation
• Nelson and Elaine Grman
• PSEA Staff Organization
• Saul Schniderman
• Simmons Law Firm
• SMART IL Legislative Board
• ULLICO Management Co.
• Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor
• West Central Illinois Building Trades Council
• West Central Illinois Labor Council
• Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
Marc Landers, field representative for Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 8, said the union would be providing $15,000 worth of in-kind services to the monument project.