The Ludlow Massacre and Other Lessons from Labor History

Georgia NeSmith
11 min readApr 25, 2020

Slavery is unpaid labor. But labor history includes unimaginable brutality toward white working families also…including slaughter.

In “Everyone’s Dying and No One Cares: Are Americans Indifferent to Death on a Mass Scale?” umair haque (one of the best writers on economics on Medium, by the way…FOLLOW HIM!] discusses apparent American indifference to suffering on a mass scale as seen in the response to the lockdown. There are a number of good points he makes, but there is one glaring error in this quote:

One great lesson of history is that if you buy into a system of exploitation, beware: you might just be next in line.

Now, you might think that the “real” Americans — the white working and middle class would have learned something from that. From the system that once exploited only blacks turning on them, at last, too. That they might have said: “Hey, you know what? Exploitation, we’ve learned, backfires. Let’s build a decent society.

….American history can therefore be divided up into three chapters: slavery, segregation, and predatory capitalism.

Unfortunately, slavery and predatory capitalism both existed side by side from the beginning of US history. What we see now is but the CONTINUATION of the unbroken line of predatory capitalism contemporaneous to slavery, Jim Crow, all the way through to The Time of the Coronavirus.

If you look at labor history, you know that blacks are not the only workers exploited by predatory capitalism, although they have been exploited the MOST. However, they do provide a ground floor for white people. In the abolitionist North and indifferent West, working class whites, particularly (but not only) immigrants, were treated as barely half step above slaves— and when treated better, only so they will be able to look down on laborers of color. (Those without union representation in many ways are still treated that way.)

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 3/25/1911, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE

There have to be people out there who have heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (146 dead) and the Ludlow Massacre (25 dead during the massacre, nearly 200…



Georgia NeSmith

Retired professor, feminist, writer, photographer, activist, grandmother of 5, overall Wise Woman. Phd UIA School of Journalism & Mass Communication, 1994.