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Iron Range Miners Strike of 1916

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Mines Experiment Station's staff and visitors, about 1916

The history of the American labor movement is peopled by immigrants to this country. Finnish, South Slav, and Italian immigrant laborers were prominent in labor movements in the logging and mining industries of Minnesota. The Minnesota Iron Range, stretching across northeastern Minnesota, was made up of the Mesabi, Cuyuna, and Vermilion Ranges of iron-rich ore and the mines where it was extracted. "The Range", as the area comprising the three ranges was nicknamed, was a major site of strife between owners and laborers, and a fertile field for labor organizing. Most famous, perhaps, was the Mesabi Range, considered the "mightiest," where much of the strife occurred, and where historic battles between labor and management were fought. Two strikes on the Mesabi—one in 1907, and another in 1916—are legendary in the struggle for workers' rights and fair wages.

Forty miners walked off the job on June 3, 1916 beginning the strike. The unorganized miners soon realized they needed help. Unlike the 1907 strike, this time the Western Federation of Miners was not interested in organizing the miners. Instead, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) responded, sending in some of their top organizers. Ironically, many of the strikebreakers from 1907 became instrumental in the 1916 strike.

The 1916 strike was marked by violence and repression. Unlike 1907, strikebreakers were not as readily available and other tactics were employed to end the strike. The civil liberties of strikers were violated, mine guards and police used force to intimidate strikers, union leaders were jailed, economic pressure was exerted on merchants who extended credit to strikers, and the Oliver Iron Mining Company refused to negotiate with the strikers.

The strike was called off on September 17, 1916. The miners did win some important short-range reforms from the mining company, but the company's anti-union attitude persisted for another quarter century.

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