Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Bisbee ’17

In 1917 Bisbee, Arizona was an important centre of copper mining. The Industrial Workers of the World trade union set up a branch in Bisbee signed up several hundred members and in May put a set of demands to the mining companies. The demands were turned down and the union called a strike which began at the end of June and involved most of the miners. Two weeks later the local sheriff and company executives signed up 2,200 deputies and provided them with lists of men to arrest. The next morning 2000 men were rounded up (not all of the miners) and marched to the local baseball park and kept under armed guard. Those that weren't union members and agreed to go back to work were allowed to leave (700 did). The rest were loaded onto cattle cars and the train took them 300km out of town where they were unloaded and told that they would be killed if they tried to return to their homes in Bisbee. When asked what law he was using to justify his action, Sheriff Wheeler said no law, but he'd do it again.
This event is known as the Bisbee Deportation. Bisbee ’17 is a documentary about the centenary of the Bisbee Deportation and how the current population feels about it. It is difficult to know how representative the view expressed were but they ran the full range from unequivical support for the vigillantee action to support for the union and deportees. The centenary includes a re-enactment of the events (except that while the baseball park still exists the railway doesn't).

The documentary concentrates on trying to show the difference between the sort of men who Sheriff Wheeler signed up as deputies and those who were run out of town (lots of Hispanic, Eastern European and Italian names). This wasn't just a union busting action it was also an attempt to get rid of the "wrong sort of American".

The documentary is a very easy watch but left me with far more questions than answers: What happened to the deportees? What happened to the vigillantees? There are a couple of casual mentions of a court case but the documentary itself stops with the events of 12 July 1917. Perhaps they are planning a sequel, in the meantime Wikipedia can provide some answers.

No references are made to current politics in America.


Ian's rating 2.5/5

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