The Billings Outpost

Anaconda Co. set tone of political struggle now

At the turn of the 19th century, a gang of bullies controlled Montana. The roughest, toughest and meanest of the gang of plug uglies was Amalgamated Copper (later to become the Anaconda Co., known in Montana as “The Company”).

The Company bought legislators, judges, governors, senators and union leaders. The Company owned the bulk of the state’s daily press, which ruthlessly attacked anyone not endorsed by the copper cabal.

Buying judges, forcing the Legislature into session, commanding changes to the state constitution were only the most blatant uses of The Company’s muscle. Nothing was too trivial for the Company’s meddling.

A cub reporter covering a high school play in a county seat hundreds of miles from the Company’s seat of power in Butte might fear for his job if the English teacher producing it was offended by his review.

The Anaconda boss who received the complaint and applied the pressure did not know the English teacher. Did not care. The company did not like complaints or troublemakers who caused them.

The Company employed half of all Montana workers. Every one of them knew the Company was boss. Strikes for safer working conditions or better wages were doomed. Butte was occupied by federal troops seven times during this period.

Miners never won a single strike in this era of two world wars and a Great Depression. The Company ran Montana like its private plantation, but change was on its way.

The Progressive Movement marked the rise of conservative, middle class people against giant corporations, crime and corruption, child labor and drunkenness. In 1911, Montana was still an American backwater but the movement was a good fit.

America’s industrial revolution had created a number of corporate giants. These members of the super rich ruled parties and therefore states.

In 1911, the Montana Legislature, under corporate control, expanded the state militia to protect the property of the mining companies. The law would force men 18 to 40 to serve up to three years protecting mining property.

Counties would be required to build armories. Citizens would be required to pay the increased cost of the National Guard. The law was so hated that Montanans spilled into the streets to petition for an initiative that would repeal it. With the initiative passed 100 years ago, Montanans won their independence.

Well … not quite.

In truth, 50 years passed before the last vestiges of the copper collar eroded away.

First, a cluster of progressive laws were enacted through initiatives.

Child labor laws, direct election laws, laws limiting the hours of shifts in the mines were passed. A metal mines tax forced the company to pay a fairer share of the state’s tax revenue.

Gov. Joe Dixon, who led the charge in the passage of the tax, lost his bid for reelection, but another progressive became the first woman in Congress.

Jeanette Rankin, a national leader of the women’s suffrage movement, would become the only member of the House to vote against both world wars.

Montana has never elected another woman to Congress.

In the 1950s a raft of Company newspapers was sold to an Iowa chain. Company chiefs squabbled over the decision to sell, but those backing the sale won. The Company press was dead.

The Company slowly moved its copper operations out of the country. A coup in Chili elevated a dictator who nationalized the Company’s South American holdings - turning profit into competition.

A state court upheld the 1912 Act. The U.S. high court struck it down. The court asserted that the case was a matter of freedom of speech. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a heckler, “Corporations are people, too, my friend.”

Protesters began holding up signs that read, “I’ll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

At the GOP convention in Missoula in June, Montana, a few convention-goers set up outside with an outhouse labeled “Obama’s Presidential Library.” But that wasn’t the most outrageous part.

According to the Missoulian, the outhouse was also decorated in sexism, birtherism and implicit threats: The outhouse was painted to look as though it had been riddled by bullets. Inside, a fake birth certificate for Barack Hussein Obama made reference to the disproven controversy over the president’s origins. It was stamped “Bull––.” A graffito advised “For a Good Time call 800-Michelle (crossed out), Hillary (crossed out) and Pelosi (circled in red).”

Dave Hurtt, of Florence, admitted to having built the outhouse. Terry Nelson, chairman of the Ravalli County GOP Central Committee, said the outhouse was a form of freedom of speech no longer welcome at the party’s state conventions.

Hmmm. Corporations are persons, politicians are persons, outhouses are persons.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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