Battling the executioners and their bosses. From the Molly Maguires to Mumia

By Stephen Millies, District 1402, Transportation Communications Union,
in Workers World, 7 September, 1995

"You could not run a coal company without machine guns," said Richard B. Mellon in 1925. Mellon was explaining to a committee of U.S. senators how he had just broken a strike at the family-owned Pittsburgh Coal Company.

This little speech of Mellon--whose descendants still own Alcoa Aluminum, a big chunk of Chevron Oil and the Mellon Bank--was just an episode in the Pennsylvania master class's bloody war against all labor.

The notorious Coal and Iron police--run by the corporations themselves-- were founded in 1866. For decades the "Pennsylvania Cossacks"--which had station houses in all the industrial and mining areas--terrorized workers until they were abolished in the 1930s.

"Put those strikers on a rifle diet" was what Tom Scott--president of the Pennsylvania Railroad--demanded in 1877 when his employees revolted over wage cuts. The National Guard and local police responded to Scott's request by killing 26 in Pittsburgh, 13 in Reading and several in Philadelphia.

These police continue to terrorize poor and working people. In Philadelphia's 39th precinct cops have admitted to framing scores of victims by methods that included planting drugs.

Where this ruling class made its first great fortunes--in the anthracite coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania--it conducted its first frame- ups.


While coal operators like the Mellons felt that machine guns were necessary to run mines, second entrances weren't. Because of the lack of a second opening, 179 miners were killed in the Avondale disaster on Sept. 6, 1869.

Many were roasted alive when the furnace at the bottom of the shaft caught fire.

The vast majority of these miners were Irish immigrants. They had fled English colonialism only to be exploited in the U.S.

The miners fought back. After several attempts to form a union over the decades, the Workingmen's Benevolent Association forced the mine owners to sign a union contract in 1870.

The coal operators took advantage of the great depression of 1873 to try to break the union. The miners' response was the "long strike" of 1875.

For six months the miners stayed out. They were finally defeated by the combined forces of the mine owners and their state government.

But the mine owners weren't satisfied with breaking the strike. They wanted to exterminate the leaders of the miners. Hence the frame-ups of the "Molly Maguires."

These defendants were charged with murder. Perjured testimony was used. The prosecutor was none other than Franklin B. Gowen--who was president of the Philadelphia and Reading--the biggest coal operator.

Underlying this frame-up was the most virulent anti-Irish prejudice. It's significant that the founder of the Mellon dynasty--Judge Thomas Mellon--filled his autobiography with the most bigoted filth against Irish people.

The upshot was that 19 people were executed in 1877 on different murder charges. Another two--Charles Sharpe and James McDonald--were executed on Jan. 14, 1879, just before the sheriff received the governor's reprieve.

The frame-ups of the "Molly Maguires" were soon recognized as judicial murders. There was even a movie made about the case in 1970 featuring Sean Connery.

Today the descendants of the same ruling class that ordered the mass executions of the Irish miners 120 years ago want to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. Yet his licensed gun wasn't even tested for the smell of gunpowder. The Philadelphia police department's own coroner testified that he found a .44 caliber bullet in Faulkner's head. How could Abu- Jamal's .38 caliber pistol have done that?

But facts don't matter to the district attorney or the cops. They want to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal because as a 15-year-old he was one of the founders of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968.

The prosecutor even brought up Abu-Jamal's membership in the Panthers as a reason why he should be executed--just as Franklin Gowen used the "Molly Maguire" defendants' union affiliations.

And the very same capitalist-owned newspapers that applauded the murders of the "Molly Maguires"--like the Chicago Tribune, which on June 22, 1877, called these executions "a triumph of law and justice"--are also calling for Abu-Jamal's death.

The labor movement--then in its infancy--was unable to prevent the executions of the "Molly Maguires." This year the people were able to stop the planned Aug. 17 execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. But it will take a sustained mass effort to keep Abu-Jamal away from the executioner and get him out of jail and back to his family.

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