January 3, 1917

End of Ajo strike seen soon

When Walter Holm returned from Ajo on Jan. 3, 1917, he opined that the labor situation in that mining camp had improved and that the strike would come to an end soon.

In reporting his comments, The Bisbee Daily Review headline referred to him as a “prominent labor leader of Bisbee,” but other articles about the man in the Review and other papers classify him more as an owner of a mining company (the Bisbee-Ajo company) and as a merchant.

The article said that he had returned from Ajo, “where he has mining interests. Holm was a visitor in Ajo for several days and looked over the situation from every angle.”

The strike at Ajo came as a surprise, commented the Arizona Sentinel (Yuma) the past Nov. 30.

“The company there has been building a model town for its employees, with excellent living conditions,” the Yuma paper said.

Ideal community houses

It added that “ideal community houses of concrete have been built for the Mexican employees. The company is erecting a store, which will run on an actual co-operative basis, the profits going back to the employees.

“Model school buildings are being provided; in fact, everything was designed for the comfort and health of the employees.”

The Ajo mine was being developed by the Calumet & Arizona Mining Co., which had operations in Bisbee. The company had its headquarters in Bisbee, as well, where general manager John C. Greenway was based. Ajo would be the first open-pit copper mine in Arizona

Wanted the sliding scale

The strike was aimed at putting workers there on the sliding scale for pay, which was common at copper mines in the West. Under the sliding scale, miners were paid more if the price of copper rose, less if it fell.

Sliding scale wages in 1917
This chart is from the Bulletin of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1917. The scale was put into effect in copper mines in 1914, and set the minimum wage at $3.50 per day. See the accompanying chart for the average price of copper each year.

But because Ajo was not yet a producing mine, Greenway had argued that it shouldn’t fall under the sliding scale, since it made no money regardless of the price of the commodity.Annual price of copper

Some were back at work

Holm was quoted as saying that the lead burners* and brick masons were back to work, having been ordered to return by their international headquarters. The carpenters, painters, electricians and steel workers were still out, “but I cannot see what they expect to obtain.

“While at Ajo, I advised the strikers to return to work and hasten the time when the New Cornelia company should be able to pay wages based on the sliding scale of the price of copper.”

Holm’s credentials

Holm, the Review said, had been a resident of Bisbee for years and was one of the recognized labor leaders of the district, “at one time having been secretary of the Bisbee miners’ union.

“He is thoroughly cognizant of the Ajo situation and appears to favor a complete resumption of work. He adds that nearly 600 men are working for the company and a like number is still on strike.”

Holm’s prediction was accurate. In mid-January, the strike was over. The Review would report that the structural iron workers had received instruction from their headquarters to return to work, and others followed suit.

“It is understood the organizers of the Western Federation have left the camp,” the Bisbee paper said.

*Lead burning was a type of welding, or soldering, that put lead on lead. Lead was often used in processes that involved acid. The Ajo mine incorporated a type of leaching and chemical extraction to remove copper from the oxide ore capping. After that was removed, the sulfide ore would be shipped to the C&A smelter at Douglas, along with the ore from Bisbee.

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