Butte, Montana

NASA satellite image of Butte, Montana minepit

In the first few decades of the 1900s, several of my ancestors traveled from Newfoundland to Butte, Montana to work in the mines there. According to Wikipedia, Butte was one of the most unionized towns in America at the time, due to labor activism among the miners. I wonder how that experience shaped the Newfoundlanders’ responses when they came back East and worked as longshoremen, another industry with serious labor organizations. My grandfather worked at different times as a fisherman (where he lost a finger), a miner, an ironworker (where he lost an eye), and finally as a longshoreman. His longshoremen’s union pension was a big part of my grandparents’ retirement security. I remember how angry my grandparents were during the Reagan years when they heard anti-union arguments. Their Newfoundland brogues would get thicker and they would try to explain how the bosses always wanted to get rid of the unions and the workers always suffered without unions.

I’ve been thinking about them a lot during the recent weeks of attacks on teachers’ unions.