This Day in History – February 7th, 1894

The Cripple Creek miners’ strike of 1894 was a five-month strike by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in Cripple Creek, Colorado, USA that began on February 7th, 1894. It resulted in a victory for the union and was followed in 1903 by the Colorado Labor Wars. It is notable for being the only time in United States history when a state militia was called out (May/June 1894) in support of striking workers.

The strike was characterized by firefights and use of dynamite, and ended after a standoff between the Colorado state militia and a private force working for owners of the mines. In the years after the strike, the WFM’s popularity and power increased significantly through the region.

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Cripple Creek, Colo., under martial law in 1894.

The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was a radical labor union that gained a reputation for militancy in the mines of the western United States and British Columbia. Its efforts to organize both hard rock miners and smelter workers brought it into sharp conflicts – and often pitched battles – with both employers and governmental authorities. One of the most dramatic of these struggles occurred in the Cripple Creek district in 1903–04, and has been called the Colorado Labor Wars. The WFM also played a key role in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, but left that organization several years later.

The WFM changed its name to the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (more familiarly referred to as Mine Mill) in 1916. After a period of decline it revived in the early days of the New Deal and helped found the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935. The Mine Mill union was expelled from the CIO in 1950 during the post-war red scare for refusing to shed its communist leadership. After spending years fighting off efforts by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) to raid its membership, Mine Mill and the USWA merged in 1967.

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