BY CARL GREEN
It’s a long way from Bunker Hill, IL, to Cork, Ireland, but Jim Goltz is making the connection.
The connection, of course, is his high regard for one of Labor’s greatest leaders, Mary Harris “Mother Jones,” who came from Cork, campaigned on behalf of workers across the U.S. and wound up buried at Union Miners Cemetery in Mt. Olive, IL, the only union-owned cemetery.
Goltz, a retiree of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, has about made a second career of honoring the memory of Mother Jones, who asked to be buried in the union cemetery with “her boys” – union miners protecting their jobs but killed by train guards in the 1898 Virden Massacre, also known as the Virden Riot or the Battle of Virden.
Goltz had already led a successful campaign to add Mother Jones to the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor, and he helped to create the local movement that has brought about improvements to the gravesite, an annual dinner in her honor and now the Mother Jones Museum in Mt. Olive.
What he did Aug. 1 was to tighten a link he had helped establish between that local movement and the followers of Mother Jones in her hometown of Cork, who have created their own traditions, such as the annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival at the venerable Maldron Hotel in Cork’s Shandon Historic District. Goltz first represented Illinois at the 2013 festival.
CALL IT ‘CLAY’
On the first day of this year’s festival, at its opening festivities, Goltz delivered, as promised, a 30-gram scoop of dirt – called “clay” in Cork – that he had collected from the gravesite in Mt. Olive to Tony Fitzgerald, the Lord Mayor of Cork.
Goltz also presented three proclamations, giving the event a very American feeling, at least for a while, from United Mine Workers International President Cecil Roberts, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan.
The dirt from the gravesite was much appreciated by the Cork group, said James Nolan, spokesman for the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
“This is a unique and historic act linking Mother Jones and her birthplace on the north side of Cork to her grave at Mt. Olive after some 87 years,” he said. “We wish to congratulate the friends of Mother Jones in Illinois for their thoughtfulness with their symbolic act of generosity and solidarity.
“We hope the sealed container can be placed permanently alongside the memorial plaque to Mother Jones in Shandon, with the permission of the Cork City Council,” he added.
“The act is a further sign of the growing links and bonds which have been developing over the past six years between the friends of Mother Jones on both sides of the Atlantic, many of whom, including James and his family, have attended previous Spirit of Mother Jones festivals.”
The festival was founded after a Cork native, Ger O’Mahony, researched Mother Jones’ life and learned she was born in Cork in 1837 and baptized at a church in its Shandon section. That led to formation of the Cork Mother Jones Committee and the first festival.
The festival has become one of the largest and most wide-ranging Labor events in the world, now taking all of five days and nights to present more than 30 events.
Some of the topics included:
• Historian Harry Owen describing the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
• Luke Dineen explaining the impact on Cork of the Bolshevik revolution.
• Environmentalist Father Sean McDonagh discussing the Catholic Church’s teachings on environmental issues.
• The story of Michael O’Riordan, who left Ireland at age 21 in 1938 to fight fascism in Spain, as presented by his son and daughter.
Cork-related discussions included planning issues concerning the city’s harbor and river, Cork residents who helped bring democracy to Britain and the women who fought for Irish freedom,
The schedule included dozens of films and musical performances. The very first event had an Illinois connection as well – a showing of Northern Illinois University historian Rosemary Feurer’s 2007 short film, “Mother Jones: America’s Most Dangerous Woman.” Feurer is author of Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950 and the historian for the Mother Jones Museum. Her work is available from the museum website.
The organizers gave their annual Spirit of Mother Jones Award to Ken Fleming, a union organizer and inspector for the International Transport Workers Federation who has been fighting to eliminate the exploitation of seafarers.
Said James Nolan:
“Ken Fleming has been willing to challenge the official silence on the blatant exploitation of seafarers and migrant fishers in ships operating under Flags of Convenience in Ireland and the UK. He is a fearless, passionate and determined defender of the workers who have been denied their rights, and continually he exposes and challenges a system that treats many of them as virtual slaves.
“Ken has bravely exposed the exploitative working practices in sections of the marine and fishing industries, and he has sought to organize the migrant fishers. We should not allow our fish to be caught or our goods to be transported or our passengers to be carried on the back of slave labor!”
Fleming said the recognition will help him and his fellow inspectors.
“We can now look to the Spirit of Mother Jones for inspiration, as I have a sense that she is now aware of our struggle, and my hunch is she will find a way to lend a hand,” he said.
IN THE SPIRIT
That spirit is what Goltz said led him to bring dirt from the gravesite to the festival, and it was invoked in the resolutions he brought.
Trumka’s said, in part: “On behalf of the 12.5 million members and 55 affiliates of the AFL-CIO, we are proud to support the Cork Mother Jones Festival. America is a nation built by immigrants like Mother Jones whose spirit lit a flame in our hearts.”
In the Mineworkers’ proclamation, Cecil Roberts also referred to Mother Jones’ spirit. “We are a nation built by immigrants. One such immigrant stands out, not because of her gender, not because she stood barely five feet tall, but because her spirit was a flame which lit fires in peoples’ hearts. That flame remains within the UMWA and in all our friends and allies. We thank the great Irish people for giving us the legendary, hell-raising, agitating Mother Jones.”
Roberts added: “We loved her and still love her. We call her the Miners’ Angel. Only an angel could have endured all of the suffering, hate, danger and obstacles that the industrial masters hurled at her as she valiantly fought for dignity, economic security and safety for mine workers and their families.”