When the IWW Took on the Copper Kings

Proyect, Louis

Publisher:  Counterpunch
Date Written:  05/07/2019
Year Published:  2019  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23763

Review of the movie "Bisbee ‘17" about a strike and subsequent deportation of the workers of an Arizona mining town.




When workers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions in July 1917, a posse organized by the bosses at Phelps-Dodge and the local authorities rounded up the strikers and deported them to Hermanas, New Mexico in railroad cattle cars, just like Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Once the 1,300 miners arrived in New Mexico, they were housed in tents originally intended for use by Mexican refugees, who took refuge in the USA in order to avoid the Mexican army’s scorched earth tactics against Pancho Villa.

Director Robert Greene, who worked in Kim’s Video store in NYC while completing a film degree at CCNY, had the ingenious idea to recreate the events of Bisbee ’17 by using the townspeople. The first 90 minutes or so of the film includes interviews with them and the remainder consists of their reenactment of the strike and deportation. In many ways, the film reminds me of Peter Watkins’s “La Commune”, a reenactment of the Paris Commune using non-professionals, many from North Africa.

What we discover in the Bisbee interviews is the growing identification by the actors with their roles. A young Chicano, who plays a miner, came to Bisbee only to find work where his main interest seemed to be going to a local disco. He starts off by stating his relative indifference to the events he is helping to reenact. As learns more about the racism directed against Mexican-American miners in 1917, he grows more politically aware—all the more so after having discussions with an elderly retired Chicano cowboy who was very knowledgeable about what took place in 1917, mostly obtained from older relatives who passed down their recollections.
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