July 2012        

A great daughter of our country

On 1 August this year the Cork Mother Jones Commemorative Committee will unveil a plaque to commemorate one of the great leaders of the North American labour movement, Mary Jones, one of the most neglected women in Irish labour history. The Cork Mother Jones Festival will also be held in the Shandon area of the city.
     She was born Mary Harris on 1 August 1837 on the north side of Cork, the daughter of a Catholic tenant-farmer, Richard Harris, and his wife, Ellen Cotter. The plaque will mark the 175th anniversary of her birth.
     Mary Jones was an organiser for the United Mine Workers’ Union, a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”), and member of the Socialist Party of America. She also led a march of children, the “Children’s Crusade,” from Philadelphia to New York, to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt.
     The following is an edited tribute to Mother Jones written by Eugene V. Debs, from Appeal to Reason, 23 November 1907.
For fifteen years she has been at the forefront, and never once has she been known to flinch. From the time of the Pullman strike in 1894, when she first came into prominence, she has been steadily in the public eye. With no desire to wear “distinction’s worthless badge,” utterly forgetful of self and scorning all selfish ambitions, this brave woman has fought the battles of the oppressed with a heroism more exalted than ever sustained a soldier upon the field of carnage.
     Mother Jones is not one of the “summer soldiers” or “sunshine patriots.” Her pulses burn with patriotic fervor, and wherever the battle waxes hottest there she surely will be found upon the firing line.
     For many weary months at a time she has lived amid the most desolate regions of West Virginia, organizing the half-starved miners, making her home in their wretched cabins, sharing her meagre substance with their families, nursing the sick and cheering the disconsolate—a true minister of mercy.
     During the great strike in the anthracite coal district she marched at the head of the miners; was first to meet the sheriff and the soldiers, and last to leave the field of battle.
     Again and again has this dauntless soul been driven out of some community by corporation hirelings, enjoined by courts, locked up in jail, prodded by the bayonets of soldiers, and threatened with assassination. But never once in all her self-surrendering life has she shown the white feather; never once given a single sign of weakness or discouragement. In the Colorado strikes Mother Jones was feared, as was no other, by the criminal corporations; feared by them as she was loved by the sturdy miners she led again and again in the face of overwhelming odds until, like Henry of Navarre, where her snow-white crown was seen, the despairing slaves took fresh courage and fought again with all their waning strength against the embattled foe.
     Deported at the point of bayonets, she bore herself so true a warrior that she won even the admiration of the soldiers, whose order it was to escort her to the boundary lines and guard against her return.
     No other soldier in the revolutionary cause has a better right to recognition in this edition than has Mother Jones.
     Her very name expresses the spirit of the revolution. Her striking personality embodies all its principles. She has won her way into the hearts of the nation’s toilers, and her name is revered at the altars of their humble firesides and will be lovingly remembered by their children and their children’s children for ever.
     Today’s workers’ movement could draw many lessons and inspiration from this militant workers’ leader, a great daughter of our country, leader of hundreds of thousands of workers, who remained unbowed and unbroken.

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