Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Mark Pittenger

Abstract

Colorado workers have traditionally been viewed as more radical than their eastern counterparts. The dramatic strikes in Cripple Creek, Leadville, and Ludlow all highlighted this fact. These strikes contributed to the creation of what became known as western unionism. Historians have viewed western unionism as distinct from eastern organized labor because of its militant and radical nature. Yet, how the popular press, academics, and labor leaders at the time viewed Colorado’s role in what became known as the labor question remains unclear. This thesis sets out to reconstruct the discourse of labor’s role in commerce and Colorado’s place in that discussion. By examining how three dramatic events in Colorado’s labor history were represented in the popular press, this thesis will reveal how Colorado’s role evolved over time and how what transpired in Colorado ultimately had strong implications on the labor question. The Cripple Creek strike of 1894 demonstrated the strength and ability of organized labor, the Leadville strike in 1896-1897 led to deep divisions between western laborers and the eastern unions (as represented by the American Federation of Labor), and the Colorado Coalfield strike of 1913-1914 witnessed the closest that America came to full class war. The impact that these strikes had on the national discourse surrounding the labor question has been largely left out from existing literature on the subject.

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